EKL layoffs of 700+ OK'd

Advocate staff file photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER --  Earl K. Long Medical Center on Airline Highway in north Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff file photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- Earl K. Long Medical Center on Airline Highway in north Baton Rouge.

Job losses effective April 15

More than 700 employees of the LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center and its clinics will lose their jobs in two weeks as a result of action taken Tuesday by the state Civil Service Commission.

The seven-member commission voted 4-2 in favor of a public-private partnership deal, in which Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center becomes home to the LSU public hospital’s inpatient care and medical education programs, effective April 15.

The Lake also takes over management of the LSU hospital’s outpatient clinics the same day.

Dr. Michael Kaiser, LSU Health Care Services Division chief executive officer, said all 777 employees of the hospital and its clinics located throughout the city will lose their jobs. About 215 Earl K. Long employees have been hired by the Lake, “and there’s more in the pipeline,” he said.

Kaiser told the commission that the deal will produce a $110 million budget savings in the first year, rising to $117
million annually in year three of the 10-year initial agreement.

Commission approval is required on contracts that eliminate state jobs to determine whether the deals result in efficiencies and economies.

LSU has started winding down services at the Earl K. Long hospital, which opened in 1968 on Airline Highway in north Baton Rouge. Efforts to build a new hospital went nowhere. Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed a deal with Our Lady of the Lake, whose facility is in south Baton Rouge off Essen Lane, instead of construction of an estimated $400 million new facility.

“If I understand correctly, the savings occur because you no longer have the employees you have now,” said John McLure, vice chairman of the Civil Service Commission. “You no longer have to pay those employees. Everything else stays the same.”

McLure said the state still has to pay for patient care for the poor and uninsured, just through a private hospital.

Civil Service Commissioner Lee Griffin said the only “reasonable option” is to agree to the cooperative endeavor.

“The money’s not there to run the hospital the way it needs to be run,” Griffin said.

The LSU Earl K. Long deal with the Lake is the first of six similar public-private partnerships proposed by Jindal administration concerning public hospitals.

Privatization “really bothers me,” Commissioner Pete Fremin said. “With private providers you get services you pay for. At Earl K. Long, you get the services you deserve.”

Fremin is the state elected employee representative.

State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, complained about the accelerated pace of the hospital closure.

The initial Lake deal called for the LSU hospital to close in November.

“I believe there are some key components still missing,” Barrow said.

Barrow said the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have not yet approve the financial plan included in the cooperative endeavor; women’s health care and prisoner care issues have not yet been resolved; and the state price tag of the employee layoff has not been calculated.

Peggy Stemmans, a blood bank supervisor with the Earl K. Long facility, said the savings are not all they are cracked up to be.

“The private sector is not going to do it for free,” Stemmans said. “The same Medicaid money is being used in the private sector.”

Stemmans said the internal medicine residency program at the Earl K. Long hospital is rated No. 1 in the state.

Rene Torregrossa, a medical technician with the Earl K. Long facility, said the privatization is being pushed “in the name of politics and political ambition.” What is being dismantled is “the safety net system in which everyone is eligible for care,” she said.

Kaiser assured the Civil Service Commission that LSU and the state had “built in the protection” to assure that access to patient care would not suffer. He said the LSU Health Care Services Division will continue to exist and oversee the deals with private hospitals that take over operations of public hospitals “where we can report on quality and access.”

Voting for the Lake deal were Civil Commission Chairman David Duplantier as well as commissioners McLure, Griffin and Scott Hughes.

Voting against the proposal were commissioners Fremin and Sidney Tobias Jr.

Commissioner Kenneth Polite Jr. was absent and did not vote.