Most state hospital employee layoffs put on hold

Most of the 1,500 state employee layoffs scheduled for Jan. 21 at LSU hospitals across south Louisiana have been put on hold.

LSU officials said Tuesday they will not proceed to Civil Service approval of plans as negotiations continue with private partners for operations of the seven hospitals under LSU’s Health Care Services Division, including those in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette.

“Since those discussions are ongoing and the partners have indicated a desire to maintain as many services as possible pending agreements that would continue, and possibly expand, such services into the future LSU HCSD has delayed much of the Civil Service layoff proposals from consideration by the state Civil Service Commission,” LSU System Executive Vice President Frank Opelka wrote in an email update to legislators acquired by The Advocate.

“As of now, the only layoffs anticipated involve five people at W.O. Moss Medical Center in Lake Charles and 42 at Bogalusa Medical Center where permanent reductions are necessary and no partnership is likely to result in the retention of all services at those facilities,” Opelka continued.

Opelka said that if such public-private partnerships “are not solidified, there still exists the possibility that permanent service reductions and layoff plans will be reinstituted.”

Opelka did not respond to requests for an interview Tuesday submitted through his office and to his email.

The LSU Board of Supervisors approved a plan in October that included some 1,500 employee layoffs, closure of in-patient, intensive care, emergency room and surgical beds as well as medical services as part of budget-balancing efforts.

The reductions in the HCSD came as the LSU hospital system grappled with some $300 million in budget cuts after Congress reduced the federal government’s contribution to the state’s Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

According to LSU documents, the reductions at the seven south Louisiana hospitals were supposed to eliminate $152 million in expenditures. LSU had said it would close the remaining gap with public-private partnership deals that have been under negotiation since then.

Budget balancing at LSU’s three hospitals in north Louisiana and private sector negotiations are being handled separately.

“We look forward to announcements in the near future regarding these developing partnerships that will put health care services for LSU’s patients on more certain financial footing,” Opelka told legislators in the same memo dealing with postponement of layoffs.

It is unclear how the hospitals’ budget will be balanced by June 30 under the amended approach where at least for now there are no job layoffs and most services are retained.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Jack Donahue said he had received the email from Opelka on Tuesday. “I have no other information. I’m sure they are going to share some details with us at some point,” said Donahue, R-Mandeville.

“My take is that whoever they would partner with needs the employees to execute the services that are going to be demanded,” said state Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette. He said he wants to know who will continue to pay the employees once the changeover occurs.

Layoff notices had been posted at HCSD facilities in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Houma, Bogalusa, Independence and Lake Charles notifying employees of a pending layoff effective close of business Jan. 21.

The board approved layoff plan included 341 at LSU’s Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, 423 at the Interim Hospital in New Orleans and 173 at University Medical Center in Lafayette, 245 at Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center, 95 at Lallie Kemp Medical Center in Independence, 146 at Bogalusa Medical Center and 64 at W.O. Moss Medical Center in Lake Charles.