Private LSU foundation tasked with search

A private LSU foundation, which will operate in secret, has been tasked with the job of identifying a private partner or partners for future operations of LSU hospitals in Shreveport, Monroe and Pineville.

Some legislators whose constituents rely on the north Louisiana hospitals that serve the poor and uninsured as well as train the state’s future physicians questioned the move.

“I don’t understand the secrecy. Why is it there?” asked state Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, an advocate for LSU’s E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe.

“It’s a public institution, a public asset. I would trust and think as we progress through this process that members of the Foundation board would be forthcoming and share information,” said state Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Keithville.

LSU Health Shreveport, as a government agency, had planned to go the public route of making a formal “request for proposal,” called an RFP.

But officials said that process would take too long and perhaps not yield the best result.

The LSU Health Sciences Foundation received the go-ahead from LSU System President William Jenkins, who said he authorized discussions to develop “memorandums of understanding” with private entities.

“The foundation will initiate this process in very early December, with a view towards accepting indications of interest in late December, finalizing its recommendations in January 2013,” said Catherine Nobile, of Shreveport, the foundation’s president.

Private foundations are usually not subject to public records laws. The “request for proposal” route would have required the release of information on type of arrangements being sought as well as which firms responded.

“As I hope that you will understand, these types of arrangements cannot be effectively negotiated in the public eye,” LSU Health Science Center Chancellor Robert Barish told LSU faculty and staff in a message regarding the change in direction.

He assured them that it was the best course of action for the future of the hospital and graduate medical education.

“With the information they collect, they will be better able to help us negotiate an arrangement that aligns with our mission, assuring financial stability, patient access and the continued strength of our educational programs,” Barish wrote.

Thompson said he does not like that the public won’t be involved. “It’s a good check and balance that we don’t have in this situation,” he said.

“But how do we know we are making the best deal?” Thompson asked. “If we are not going to show people what we are doing until after we do it, where’s the accountability?”

Buffington said she understands the urgency because of budget cuts the hospitals are facing in the wake of a congressionally approved drop in federal Medicaid funding support. The public-private partnerships are supposed to help close those budget holes under a plan advanced by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

But she said sharing information as the foundation and LSU moves through the process is “critical” because the impact decisions will have on health care and medical education.

Buffington said she hopes the foundation would look at local partners first, particularly with hospitals with which the LSU already has a relationship.

In Shreveport, Willis- Knighton and CHRISTUS hospitals have expressed interest.

In an e-mail response to questions, Nobile said the foundation’s mission is to support the Health Sciences Center, “so we inherently have authority” to take on the job of exploring options for public-private partnerships for the three hospitals.

The foundation hired investment banking adviser SC&H Capital, financial advisor I-3 Healthcare Consulting, and the national law firm of Epstein, Becker & Green to help identify and evaluate potential partners.