Former health secretary visits system leaders, state officials
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s former health secretary — now a hospital management company executive — participated in meetings about potential private sector business opportunities as the administration set about an overhaul of LSU’s public hospital system.
The administration plan involves downsizing facilities across the 10-hospital system while moving more health care for the poor and uninsured to the private sector. More physician training programs would move to those private hospitals too.
Alan Levine, now a top executive at Health Management Associates, of Florida, met with top LSU and state health agency officials in mid-July with his company’s chief financial officer at his side.
Levine also traveled to Shreveport to talk about possible approaches for privatizing the LSU Health center there, which is home of one of LSU’s two medical schools.
Since then, Levine has met with LSU system President William Jenkins — conversations that both he and Jenkins confirm — as his company assesses business opportunities in the state.
Levine said his involvement has been in an advisory capacity, based on his knowledge of both health care financing and hospital management, where he has spent most of his professional career.
He also ran state health agencies for the governors of Florida and Louisiana.
“I have had no conversations with LSU about taking over any of the existing LSU hospitals,” Levine said. “The last conversation I had about the LSU public hospitals was when I was there during the summer. I was there as a former secretary. I was not there to pitch my company.
“I’m not engaged in any way, shape or form in the discussions they are having about the reductions or the (public-private) partnerships locally that they are talking about.”
Levine left the Jindal administration about two years ago. During his tenure, Levine helped broker a deal that led to an LSU-affiliated, not-for-profit board to build and run a new academic medical center in New Orleans. The board will choose a management company.
Levine also helped finalize the financial agreement for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center to provide facilities for LSU’s inpatient and medical education program in Baton Rouge. LSU’s antiquated Earl K. Long Regional Medical Center would close in late 2013.
Levine did not shut the door on his company, HMA, responding to any requests for proposals that LSU may put out for Shreveport or any other of its hospitals.
But Levine said his conversations with Jenkins, LSU’s interim system president, was “not related to public hospitals.”
Levine said he is interested in how the private hospitals would interface with LSU when it comes to medical education programs that train the state’s future physicians.
“There are always hospitals in every state that are looking at potential partnerships ... and even possibly in Louisiana,” Levine said. “In Louisiana, because medical education is so important, it would be very difficult for me to look at a private hospital without looking at how that hospital interacts with LSU. I want to understand how those hospital services lend themselves to medical education.”
Levine said he could not talk about potential business discussions he’s having with Louisiana hospital executives.
LSU and Lafayette General Medical Center recently entered into a letter of intent to explore a potential collaboration involving LSU’s University Medical Center in Lafayette. Part of those discussions involve Lafayette General becoming a home to some LSU physician training programs.
Jenkins said he’s having conversations with a variety of potential private partners who have shown interest since LSU embarked on the new path.
Those talks include Levine’s company as well as other in-state and out-of-state interests, he said.
“I would say he (Levine) would be interested in business,” Jenkins said. “You would be surprised how many companies across the country are interested in these hospitals.”
Levine’s mid-July meeting with LSU and state health officials came as LSU was developing its first series of cuts in response to a major reduction in federal support for the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.
HMA’s CFO Kerry Curry accompanied him.
“We traveled to several places during my visit. There’s other business we conduct outside of Louisiana and we travel together,” Levine said, adding that it was not unusual. “He didn’t say anything in the meeting.”
According to a memo written by former LSU system Vice President for health affairs Fred Cerise, Levine mentioned that LSU could sell its hospital operations in Shreveport, Houma and Bogalusa.
After the memo surfaced, Levine said he advocated leasing — not a sale — to generate dollars that could be plowed back into the hospital operations and improvements.
Levine’s comments about the Shreveport facility brought an invitation from the Community Foundation of North Louisiana to come to a meeting to discuss private sector opportunities, said Sally Croom, spokeswoman at LSU Health Shreveport.
“LSU Health Shreveport did not organize or conduct a meeting with the former secretary,” Croom said.
Levine discussed the experiences of Tampa General in Tampa, Fla., Grady Memorial in Atlanta and a couple of other hospitals that are moving from public hospitals to a different type of management.
“We talked about what each of those hospitals did, how they transformed,” Levine said. “Since then, I have really not had any discussions with them about what they are doing. ... My advice at the time was to get a consultant whose only mission was to give information to LSU.”
LSU Health is in the process of developing a request for proposal in conjunction with the LSU Health Shreveport Foundation, which conducts fundraising for the educational, health care and research activities on the hospital campus, LSU Health Sciences Center Chancellor Dr. Robert Barish told the LSU Board of Supervisors recently.
Barish declined an interview request on the progress of the request for proposal.
LSU Health Shreveport’s Croom said “considerable progress” has been made.
Exactly what type of private partnership would be sought is not clear.
“We will know this answer when and if the RFP goes out and interest is shown,” Croom said.
Levine said his company would not make a proposal unless it seriously felt it could add value.
“I would not want anyone making any false assumptions on my involvement in the RFP,” Levine said. “I would not want to jeopardize my ability to bid on it, if in the event we decide we would want to respond to it.”