Chalmette hospital CEO: You wouldn’t believe our billing problems

The newly opened St. Bernard Parish Hospital in Chalmette prepared for future hurricanes by putting generators, fuel tanks and operating systems 25 feet above ground. Yet, the startup hospital found itself unprepared for basic accounting problems.

The hospital’s CEO, Wayne Landry, told state officials Thursday that the initial billing software was problematic, generating rejections and denials. It took months to get permission to bill the Medicare program.

Then, he said, the federal government gave the hospital the same Medicare billing number as a health care outfit in New Jersey.

“We had every problem you can have, I guess,” Landry told the state Bond Commission. Landry went to the State Capitol for approval of a $3 million budgetary loan until $10 million in insurance payments finally arrives.

Normally stern about entities’ struggles to maintain cash flow, state Rep. Jim Fannin quickly became sympathetic once he questioned Landry about the root of the problem. Fannin, D-Jonesboro, even chuckled as he summarized the hospital’s problems.

Fannin asked if the hospital submitted requests for payments after delivering health care services.

“The short answer is yes. But the real answer is the management company recommended a software package that proved to be dysfunctional,” Landry said, detailing the hospital’s Medicare billing problems.

Fannin said some of the hospital’s patients must have private insurance.

“Yes, but we couldn’t generate bills at all because of the computer problems,” Landry told him.

With a laugh, Fannin relinquished the microphone. “It’s just always a mystery to me why we can’t pay our bills, but we’re not sending out bills,” Fannin said.

The commission voted without objection to approve the budgetary loan, giving the hospital the authority to receive a short-term bridge through a private banker.

The hospital expects 2014 revenues to be $36.3 million, an increase from the $24.5 million generated last year.

The commission’s chairman, state Treasurer John Kennedy, thanked Regions Bank for working with the hospital. “If your banker works with you, it makes all the help in the world,” he said.

The hospital opened in 2012, providing St. Bernard Parish residents with an alternative to a health clinic’s trailer quarters in the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

Behind-the-scenes drama quickly ensued. The hospital made too many hires, prompting layoffs. Franciscan Missionaries abruptly ended its management of the hospital. MedAssets now handles billings.

In April, St. Bernard Parish voters will be faced with approval or disapproval of a 30-mill tax designed to generate $9 million. The tax would translate to $105 for a homeowner with a $110,000 home.

Landry said Thursday that the millage is needed to recruit specialists and to implement an electronic medical records system.

He said the tax would be a one-time occurance.

“We all have something to be extremely proud of in the state of Louisiana that we were able to put together a hospital,” he said.