Opponents of Pineville medical center closure win partial victory Monday

Judge rules lawmakers violated open meetings law

Opponents of the state’s plan to close LSU’s Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville at month’s end scored a partial victory Monday when a judge ruled the Legislature violated the open meetings law during the decision-making process.

Even though ad hoc Judge Robert Downing refused to halt the scheduled June 30 closing of the state-run charity hospital, his finding of unconstitutionality fast-tracks the case and allows for a direct appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

“That remains to be seen,” lawyer J. Arthur Smith, who represents the plaintiffs who filed suit earlier this month seeking to block the hospital’s closure, said when asked whether the hospital will shut down at the end of the month.

“This whole thing has been done in a clandestine manner,” Smith added outside a 19th Judicial District courtroom.

The plaintiffs — Ed Parker, a lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ Council 17 in Baton Rouge, and New Orleans resident Brad Ott — alleged in their lawsuit that proper notice wasn’t given when the closure resolution for the medical center came up for approval in a state Senate committee meeting April 2.

Downing, a former state district and state appellate court judge sitting in for state District Judge Kay Bates, agreed Monday after a four-hour hearing.

The Senate intends to appeal.

The original March 31 notice for the April 2 meeting of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare made no mention of Senate Concurrent Resolution 48, which endorsed the Huey P. closure plan. A revised agenda posted shortly after 4 p.m. April 1 included SCR48. The April 2 meeting was set for 9 a.m.

“It was done in an unconstitutional manner,” Downing stated from the bench before suspending his ruling pending appeal.

“So, I’m sorry, it looks like the hospital will be closing during the pendency of this appeal,” he added.

Smith said one option the plaintiffs have is to ask the state Supreme Court to stay the planned closure.

Legislative approval was needed for the closure of the hospital, part of Jindal administration plans to shift care of the poor and uninsured into the private sector. The Huey P. is the last of nine LSU hospitals to be impacted by privatization.

“I hate to see these things close,” Downing said before leaving the courtroom.

LSU has submitted an employee layoff plan to state Civil Service, covering more than 100 classified employees. The proposed effective date is June 30.

Civil Service has not yet approved the plan. Its next meeting isn’t scheduled until early July.

LSU has kept the hospital open on a limited basis.

Two Alexandria private hospitals — Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital and Rapides Regional Medical Center — are the new LSU partners to provide both inpatient and outpatient health care for those who traditionally go to the Pineville hospital.

Parker’s and Ott’s suit was filed against the Senate, the LSU Board of Supervisors and the state.