Legislators look at north Louisiana hospital pact

Jenny Hodge, a Baptist missionary from Lake Providence, asked legislators Friday for a voice in deciding how public hospitals will operate under private management during a hearing that one senator said marked the last day of Louisiana’s 300-year-old charity hospital system.

Hodge said she received assurances that the faith-based communities and other public groups will have a voice. “But I haven’t seen it in writing and, historically, I know that if it’s not in writing, it may not be sure,” Hodge said.

State Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, told Hodge that he would ensure that promises are kept to include members of the public on the board of the private entities that will start managing public LSU hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe beginning Oct. 1.

The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, which usually doesn’t review state contracts, took testimony on agreements with the private Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, or BRF, that had more than 50 blank pages when first presented in May by the LSU Board of Supervisors.

BRF takes over administration of the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport, which has a $276 million budget and about 2,200 employees, and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe, with about 550 workers.

These are the last agreements in a shift toward private companies running the LSU public hospitals that provide services for the poor and trains future doctors, Thompson said. The Jindal administration argues privatization can save taxpayers money while providing services that, in some cases, are better than what the state could provide.

“This is the last day for public hospitals in Louisiana. We’re the last ones,” Thompson said after reviewing the agreements. The LSU public hospital system grew out of the Charity Hospital that was founded in 1736 when New Orleans was a colony of France.

“I would have kept the LSU model intact,” Thompson said.

But given the reality of privatization, he studied the documents, questioned BFR officials and came to the conclusion that the foundation would do a good job of continuing to provide care for the poor and train new doctors. “I still have questions, but overall I’m confident,” Thompson said.

His views were similar to others on the panel.

The proposed contract, for instance, doesn’t mandate that BFR cost less than the state government to provide the same services. “We don’t have mechanisms in place to require efficiencies,” said state Senate Finance Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.

State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, voiced support for the concept but questioned the wording, which he called vague, in the agreements that with appendices was one and half inches thick.

He asked BFR and Jindal administration officials to document how much the public hospitals cost now and how much it’ll cost BFR to provide the same services. Adley asked how close the numbers were.

“They should be close,” said Stephen Skrivanos, BFR chairman, but the number for how much the hospitals would cost state taxpayers when managed by the foundation is but an estimate.