LSU board moves to accelerate closure of Earl K. Long hospital

The LSU Board of Supervisors on Friday endorsed an agreement needed to accelerate closure of Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, ignoring pleas to slow down amid charges that mistakes are being made.

Now, LSU is on target to move its patient care and medical education programs to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in mid-April instead of in November as originally planned.

The board approved a document under which the Lake would take over LSU operated out-patient clinics in Baton Rouge. The state would reimburse the Lake up to $70 million in “baseline cost” to operate the clinics under the arrangement. The Lake would pay LSU to lease its clinics which are spread around town.

Without the Lake moving into the role, the state stood in jeopardy of losing the federal funds needed to operate the clinics, LSU System Executive Vice President Frank Opelka said.

The changes also expedite the move of physician training programs to the Lake’s Essen Lane campus to April 15.

The provisions mark changes in the original LSU-Lake deal inked in 2010.

State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, asked the board to “consider slowing this train down.”

“I have concerns relative to (health care) access and what we expect to have in our community once its completed,” said Barrow, in whose district the LSU hospital sits. She said problems already are developing and mistakes are being made that impact patient care, particularly involving poor women.

Barrow said employees and those who care about the hospital feel “betrayed” by what LSU is doing.

Opelka called Barrow “a strong advocate for patients.”

“We are doing our best to address these issues,” said Opelka. “We still have concerns about access to care.” He said LSU officials are meeting daily meetings with the Lake officials “to create more speed in this transition.”

Health care advocate Brad Ott said the closure is being undertaken with no concern for the 800-plus employees who will lose their jobs. “The wholesale ouster of Civil Service workers who have been most dedicated is very political,” Ott said,

The LSU board, without objection, voted for the alterations as well as revised “memorandums of understanding” with private hospitals that are in negotiations for the lease of LSU hospitals in Lafayette, Houma and New Orleans. The New Orleans deal includes both the Interim Hospital and the $1.1 billion academic medical center that is under construction.

The board also gave its initial blessing to negotiations for lease of the LSU hospital in Lake Charles.

The revised agreements eliminate nearly $30 million in advance and nonrefundable lease or occupancy payments each private hospital would have been required to pay. The payments would have been credited against the ultimately agreed upon leases when deals were signed.

Opelka said the up-front money is no longer needed to avoid employee layoffs at the hospitals because of employees leaving on their own. Employee departures have prompted service cuts and the need less spending.

But Opelka also said that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was asking questions about the up-front lease arrangement.

Opelka told the board that it is important to get the deals done as quickly as possible to stabilize the work force needed in the hospitals and clinics.

“Change is difficult and obviously very disruptive to our patients and employees. There’s been attrition across institutions,” said Opelka. “This is a major challenge as we move forward.”