January 10, 2017

The amount of money Crawford County Memorial Hospital paid to the estate of an Arion woman who died after a botched colonoscopy remains secret despite explicit state law that bars public organizations from engaging in confidential settlements.

Bill Bruce, the hospital’s chief executive, again this week declined to reveal the details of a lawsuit settlement with the woman’s husband that apparently dates back to April.

Bruce has cited a judge’s ruling in Carole Jean Christiansen’s estate proceedings to keep the settlement confidential as the reason he can’t release its details.

The Daily Times Herald asked a judge a month ago to unseal the settlement or direct the hospital to provide a summary of the terms of it. A courts official said this week that the judge’s ruling is imminent.

Iowa law states: “A written summary of the terms of settlement ... against a governmental body or against an employee ... shall be a public record.”

Christiansen, then 67, underwent a colonoscopy in 2014 at the hospital, according to court records. A doctor used a tiny camera to examine Christiansen’s large intestine, but the device tore a hole in her intestine and she died eight days later at an Omaha hospital after multiple organ failure.

The hospital has a history of secrecy. It fought for a year to keep the names of volunteers who drive patients to and from the hospital confidential but relented in July when the Iowa Public Information Board ruled the names were a public record.

A Denison resident had requested the names because one of the volunteers was a convicted sex offender.

The hospital has also refused to provide full supporting documents for its board of trustees meetings in advance of those meetings. The law does not require it to, but other government entities — for instance, the Carroll City Council — publish the documents online several days in advance of their meetings.

It’s unclear when a judge will rule on the Times Herald’s request to unseal the settlement.