Senate OKs hospital closure

LSU’s hospital in Pineville moved a big step closer to closure Tuesday as the Jindal administration nears completion of its privatization of the state’s public hospital system.

The Louisiana Senate voted 26-11 for a resolution expressing legislative support for the shuttering of Huey P. Long Medical Center, the hospital that for decades has served the poor and uninsured residents of central Louisiana. Two private hospitals in Alexandria — St. Francis Cabrini and Rapides General — would partner with LSU in providing patient care.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 48 now moves to the House for final approval.

The Huey P. Long deal is the ninth and final of LSU’s 10 hospitals to be impacted by privatization. Six hospitals have been taken over by private hospitals in New Orleans, Lafayette, Houma, Bogalusa, Shreveport and Monroe. LSU hospitals in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles have previously closed in partnership deals with local hospitals.

“The system that has served Louisiana for many years has been a good system. But like many other systems it’s been replaced out of necessity to meet the needs of our people,” said state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, resolution sponsor.

But state Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, in whose district the hospital sits, said he is worried that health care will suffer if the hospital closes without having promised medical clinics ready to see patients.

“How do you close the facility before the replacement is in place?” asked Gallot.

“A lot of promises have been made throughout this whole process,” said Gallot, reminding of a now-defunct plan to move the hospital to England Air Park. “Promises are not enough.”

Gallot made two attempts to amend the resolution to require three planned clinics for which $15 million has been appropriated are completed before hospital closure. One failed on a 17-17 vote and the next 13-21.

“We know these physical buildings take time. Our people are not going without,” said Long. “This amendment would put on hold what we need to moving forward on. It is just trying to put off what we have to do.”

State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, said health care has improved for Lake Charles area residents since private hospital partners took over.

But Baton Rouge legislators said there have been problems including high volumes of uninsured patients showing up in non-partner hospital emergency rooms.

State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, said there’s been a 44 percent increase in uninsured patients at Baton Rouge General Mid-City - 2,300 patients a month on average since Earl K. Long Medical Center closed in 2013. “We need to do something about Baton Rouge General ... now with the brunt of uninsured people,” she said.