LSU approves blank contract

The LSU Board of Supervisors approved Wednesday an agreement lacking in financial details for the private takeover of LSU's public hospital in Bogalusa.

The agreement could also reduce the health care for women currently provided at the hospital and its clinics in the rural Washington Parish.

The documents the board used included a "cost-analysis" sheet filled with blank spaces as well as hospital and equipment leases with no numbers. The name of the legal entity with which LSU and the state is contracting is also missing. It is described elsewhere in the documents as NEWCO.

NEWCO is the placeholder name for what will become a newly formed affiliate of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System with which LSU and the state will partner.

There are references to a master agreement, which was not provided.

The Bogalusa pact marks the eighth out of 10 public hospitals for which the LSU board has voted to enter into public-private partnerships as the state moves away from a state-run "safety-net" system of health care for the poor and uninsured.

At Bogalusa, 530 state employees will lose their jobs with the private takeover.

The Franciscan Missionaries operates Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge and St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Gonzales. The Lake took over LSU patient services and medical education programs when Earl K. Long Medical Center closed April 15.

St. Elizabeth's Chief Executive Officer Robert Burgess, who will be the executive in charge with Bogalusa responsibility, said, "We see it as an extension of our mission."

A provision in the new private operation and management deal will affect women's services currently provided at the Bogalusa hospital and its clinics when it comes to obstetrics and gynecology.

The cooperative endeavor states: "The Parties hereby acknowledge and agree that NEWCO is bound by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, and NEWCO shall at all times comply with such ERDS during the Term of this agreement. Further, in no event shall NEWCO's compliance with the ERDs give rise to a Breach of this Agreement."

In Baton Rouge, the Lake deal did not include OB-GYN services and a separate arrangement was made with Woman's Hospital.

The Bogalusa hospital is in a rural area and has a strong family medicine physicians in training program. Part of that residency program involves training in OB-GYN, using the hospital as its base.

LSU System Executive Vice President Frank Opelka, who presented the agreement, declined to answer reporters' questions following the meeting about financial terms or the exclusion of some women's services and how they would be handled in the future.

Opelka told public health care advocate Brad Ott that "those services will be available off-campus."

The documents before the board had no provision for women's care.

LSU Board Vice Chairman Bobby Yarborough said LSU officials are aware of the omission.

"They are working on it," Yarborough said.

During the meeting, Opelka said the yet-to-be created entity would make annual lease payments of no less than $5.2 million. The figure is not in documents. The initial agreement is for 10 years.

The transfer from public to private operation will occur just after the first of the year, Opelka said.

LSU board members praised the work Opelka and others have done to reach the public-private partnership agreements.

"I'm very pleased with the partnerships we have around the state. We are the only statewide safety-net in the nation left and I don't think that's because we are on the cutting edge," LSU Board member Rolfe McCollister said. "We stand by our decisions."