Jefferson to decide on hospital leases
“My board members, business leaders, and constituents have simply asked that we not rush to judgement on the largest financial issue Jefferson Parish has ever faced.” Councilman Ben Zahn
Two members of the Jefferson Parish Council are seeking to delay a decision about which of three private hospital companies will take over the parish’s two community hospitals.
But Council Chairman Chris Roberts said he plans to move forward with plans to hold a vote Thursday on the future of East Jefferson General Hospital and West Jefferson Medical Center.
While Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng and Councilman Ben Zahn said in emails they needed more time to study the issue, Roberts countered that the they were simply trying to put off the decision because the vote would go against them.
“It’s getting to a point where people are starting to take sides,” Roberts said. “Whether those who are not in the majority are looking for an opportunity to try to delay things, that’s something they’re going to have to answer.”
But Zahn said picking a hospital company next week would be rushing the process.
“It’s sad to think that some are labeling this as ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ as if it was some kind of high school competition,” he said in an email. “My board members, business leaders, and constituents have simply asked that we not rush to judgement on the largest financial issue Jefferson Parish has ever faced. Given the 3-ring circus that this has evolved into, it signals to me that a divided Jefferson Parish does a serious disservice to all our citizens.”
In emails to Roberts, Lee-Sheng and Zahn pushed to delay the process, citing concerns that new information might come out of a Monday morning meeting of the two hospital boards that would require additional time to review.
The two boards have been deadlocked on which hospital company to pick and, so far, unable to make a recommendation to the council.
Roberts responded that the process has already gone on for years, if all discussions about privatizing the hospitals are taken into account.
Zahn has also pushed for Kaufman Hall, the consultants hired by the hospital boards for $1.2 million, to make a recommendation in the decision. In emails about the issue, he noted that the consultants had previously made at least a verbal recommendation to board members, though he did not say which company they preferred.
That request was turned down, with the consultants saying they could do so only if asked by the hospital boards.
None of the council members have publicly stated who they plan to vote for, though Louisiana Children’s Medical Center, which runs Children’s Hospital, Touro Infirmary and the state public hospital in downtown New Orleans, is believed to have at least a slim lead over local hospital giant Ochsner Health System and HCA, the national hospital chain.
For his part, Roberts said that he had his mind made up, though he declined to say which company he preferred.
“If there are any council members saying they haven’t, they aren’t being truthful,” he said.
Roberts has said a decision at next week’s meeting could be made with a majority vote, rather than a unanimous decision by the council, and also left the door open to the possibility that a different company could be chosen to run the each of the hospitals.
The Parish Council meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday in the council chambers at the Yenni Building, 1221 Elmwood Park Blvd.