Legislator questions impact of privatization on women’s health care

Much of the women’s health care provided at LSU’s hospital in Bogalusa will continue after its takeover by a Catholic-affiliated group, but no birth control services or abortions will be done, hospital executives said Friday.

The exceptions based on religious reasons caught the attention of some members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget as the legislators reviewed the agreement allowing the private group to take over the public hospital.

The Bogalusa facility is the eighth of the 10 LSU hospitals for which an agreement with a private group has been reached. The Jindal administration is dismantling the statewide network of public “safety net” hospitals that have delivered medical care to poor and uninsured for generations. The public hospitals also served as the training ground for the state’s future physicians, nurses and other health care professionals.

LSU System health care redesign chief Frank Opelka mentioned that birth control, abortions and tubal ligation would not be provided but “the remainder of other women’s services are being retained.”

“Obstetrics services are there and will continue so,” Opelka said. He said cancer screening will also remain.

“I have grave concerns in this area of ethical, religious directive,” said state Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport.

Burrell said the agreement seems to allow the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady to refuse to provide an abortion even if it’s a life-threatening situation and there’s no time to get the woman to another hospital facility.

St. Elizabeth Hospital Chief Executive Officer Robert Burgess who will oversee the Bogalusa facility said there is some flexibility “when it comes down to the life of the mother or child” under the religious directive of Franciscan Missionaries hospitals such as his Gonzales facility.

“We take care of the urgent issues. We have the flexibility to do it,” Burgess said.

“It seems as if there’s a gap and no man’s land,” Burrell replied. He mentioned the potential of lawsuits.

“We leave it to the best understanding of our physicians,” Burgess responded.

State Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Keithville, asked for a detailed list of services that will be provided for women in the future at Bogalusa and how far women would have to travel to obtain services no longer offered.

Buffington said the religious directive was involved in another LSU privatization deal in Baton Rouge involving the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady, which runs Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.

But in Baton Rouge, Woman’s Hospital picked up obstetrics and gynecology services, she said.

“Clearly things were available at the local level,” Buffington said.

But Washington Parish is a rural area, she said. She asked where women would get birth control assistance and how any emergencies would be handled related to obstetrics care.

“Birth control is available in the local community but not on this campus,” Opelka said. “OB services are there, so is urgent OB care.” The woman would be transported to the nearest facility if more than local assets are required to handle the crisis, he said.

The Bogalusa hospital deal calls for the transfer to private management in early January. The contract is with an as yet unnamed, newly created subsidiary of the Franciscan Missionaries. The document refers to the entity as NEWCO. Burgess said the name will “be consistent with the Catholic faith base.”

Some 500 employees are currently on the Bogalusa hospital staff.

“We intend to hire the vast majority of employees at their current rate of pay and our benefit structure,” Burgess said.