Officials seeking funding to save Chabert Center

LSU’s Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma could be spared employee layoffs and service cuts as parish governments in the area pledged dollars to fill a budget hole.

Terrebonne and Lafourche parish presidents are seeking council approval to transfer $3 million to the hospital, where 245 employees face job loss Jan. 21. The layoff represents about one-fourth of Chabert’s staff.

The cuts are the result of a sudden drop in federal Medicaid funding support approved by Congress after the new fiscal year’s state budget began on July 1.

The local dollars would generate sufficient federal funds to close a $14.5 million gap which threatened patient care and physician-in-training programs.

Chabert CEO Rhonda Green said the money would prevent the closure of beds and special medical clinics. Green said the dollars would also preserve the accreditation of graduate medical education programs through which physicians-in-training care for 75 percent of the hospital’s patient volume.

Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet is seeking the transfer of $2 million to the hospital from parish funds. Claudet said Tuesday that a final decision on the intergovernmental agreement is scheduled to go to a public hearing and vote Dec. 19.

Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph is supporting a $1 million contribution. Randolph did not respond to two telephone messages seeking comment.

The Lafourche proposal was scheduled to go before its council Tuesday night for a hearing. A vote was not expected until December.

“This is critical for us for the number of poor and needy people it serves, but Chabert has also been a teaching hospital” producing the area’s future physicians, Claudet said. “Basically the cuts that were being made would cause the whole hospital to implode in the next few years.”

Claudet said the parish cannot afford that to happen because of the hospital’s $250 million economic impact and associated job losses.

“We are trying to solve the problem ourselves and hope the state doesn’t get in the way,” said state Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma.

While a long-term solution is being worked on, Chabert said it makes no sense from an economic or health-care perspective to embark on cuts that “decimate departments and services” and threaten medical-education programs.

“In order for us to remain a highly performing, highly functional and efficient hospital we cannot have this midyear budget cut going through,” said Chabert, about the hospital which bears his father’s name.

Parish government leaders were willing to step up to the plate because they realize the economic impact of job layoffs on the communities they represent, Chabert said.

Chabert said plugging the budget hole will give time for officials to work on a sustainable, long-term solution which will likely involve Ochsner’s, with which the hospital already has “a natural partnership.”

He said half the residency or physician-in-training positions are under Ochsner’s today.