BY AARON E. LOONEY
Special to The Advocate
July 22, 2012
GONZALES — The Ascension Parish Council has taken a step toward creating a new government complex on the parish’s east bank.
The council backed this week a proposal to abolish the East Ascension Parish Hospital Service District, which oversees the Ascension Hospital complex on East Worthey Road.
Last month, the council allowed Parish President Tommy Martinez to investigate the feasibility of renovating the facility and consolidating parish government offices there.
Parish officials said the next step would be for the parish to advertise for an architect to examine the costs involved with renovation of the hospital building and centralizing parish government offices at that location, parish officials said.
While the parish courthouse in Donaldsonville serves as the parish seat, parish offices on the more-populated east bank are scattered among several locations.
The council voted 8-0 Thursday to abolish the hospital district. Council Chairman Chris Loar and Councilman Dempsey Lambert were absent from the meeting and Council Vice-Chairman Benny Johnson did not vote as acting chairman.
The ordinance calls for the hospital district to place all of its “property and improvements moveable and immovable, assets, cash, funds of any type or source, accounts receivable, liabilities, obligations and contracts” into custody of Ascension Parish government.
These items include the multi-acre site which houses the 81,000-square-foot, 54-bed hospital, along with other buildings, and $5 million in cash assets.
The hospital district’s board of commissioners has expressed the desire to abolish the district and hand the facilities over to parish government, after unsuccessful attempts for more than a year to lease the bulk of the hospital space.
Hospital officials told the council last month that major tenant Promise Healthcare informed the board 15 months ago it would not be renewing its five-year lease.
The ordinance also says Cynthia Stafford, chairwoman of the hospital district’s board of directors, told the council June 21 that “due to the current delivery systems for health and medical care and the state of the health care industry, that it is cost prohibitive to continue the mission and purpose” of the district.
Stafford has also cited the hospital’s need for possibly millions of dollars worth of major upgrades as a cause for lack of interest in occupation.
Martinez said Thursday that the parish would honor the district’s leases with current tenants Shreveport-based Seaside Healthcare LLC and the Caro Clinic.
Seaside Healthcare has subleased the hospital’s top floor from Promise since 2010 to operate a 26-bed geriatric psychiatric facility.
However, Malcolm Dugas Jr., attorney for the hospital district, said Thursday that Seaside entered into a new one-year lease earlier that day with the district, in advance of the district’s abolition.
The Caro Clinic has a 20-year lease for use of a separate building on the hospital site, Martinez said.
When asked Thursday if the consolidation would affect the parish’s Donaldsonville offices, Martinez said some of those offices could possibly be moved to the new complex.
Concerns with finding a location for a new west bank public works building may also play a role in the decision, he added.
Although saying there is no definite plan yet regarding consolidation of west bank offices, Martinez added that he would maintain a Donaldsonville office regardless.