Hospital plan nears completion

The final piece in the Jindal administration’s plan to privatize LSU hospitals neared final legislative approval Tuesday.

A state House committee voted 10-8 to close Pineville’s Huey P. Long Medical Center.

Under a “cooperative endeavor agreement,” Christus’ St. Francis Cabrini and Rapides General Medical Center take over the care of the poor and uninsured in central Louisiana.

The closure of the nearly 75-year-old facility requires legislative approval.

The Senate already has signed off by approving a resolution; all that’s missing is full House concurrence.

The “Huey P.” is the ninth of LSU’s 10 hospitals to be affected by the privatization push.

With completion of the deal, only Lallie Kemp Medical Center in Independence would remain under LSU operation.

Two other LSU hospitals have closed: Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge and W.O. Moss Medical Center in Lake Charles.

The management of six other hospitals has been contracted to private entities, including those in New Orleans and Lafayette.

The private partners are leasing and managing those LSU hospital facilities.

It is the lease agreements, particularly $260.8 million in advance lease payments, that have run into problems with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. On Friday, the federal agency rejected the financing plans proposed by the Jindal administration.

Proponents said closing the Huey P. and sending the patients to private hospitals will improve health care and access to services in central Louisiana, which has declined in recent years.

Opponents said the transition to the private sector has started in central Louisiana and patient care and access is suffering.

As opponents testified, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley made a special committee appearance to talk about the good things in health care that have happened in Lake Charles. “The legacy of this southwest Louisiana delegation will be this, the success of this partnership,” said Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.

State Rep. Lance Harris said it would take $40 million to keep the hospital open in its current 10-bed capacity. He said the state cannot afford it and it would amount to taxpayer money being used “in a less than commonsense or practical way.”

“We have an opportunity to give our patients … the opportunity to go to two modern hospitals and three new clinics and Huey P. Long will have to close,” said Harris, R-Alexandria.

“Approve closure so our patients can get the best care available to them. Forget about the politics,” Harris said.

Hugh Mighty, an executive of LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport, said the hospital is collapsing. “The hospital has to be replaced in one way or another,” Mighty said.

Mighty said the private hospitals would provide full-service care. He said patients would no longer have to be sent to Shreveport for services such as orthopedic and cardiovascular care.

But opponents, including a Huey P. emergency room nurse, testified about the deal’s pitfalls.

“This deal has nothing to do with patients. It’s about profits,” said state Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville.

Johnson talked about specific patients already encountering problems with access to health care in the new private sector setup.

“These patients are being charged copays most of them cannot afford. Nobody charged for the care delivered by Huey P. Long,” Johnson said.

Dr. Stacy Zeller said the private hospitals are sending patients back to the Huey P. Long Medical Center for services.

“The patients need us. They don’t care about a rundown hospital,” Zeller said. “They care about seeing a doctor.”

Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, said the hospital closure should at least be postponed until the three promised satellite medical clinics are built.

“Our credibility is on the line right now. Are we going to continue to make promises to folks in central Louisiana and not deliver?” Gallot asked.

“Delay this until the state delivers on its latest promise” to build the clinics, he added.