Dueling bills could determine future of New Orleans Adolescent Hospital

Dueling bills prefiled for the upcoming legislative session could either allow Children’s Hospital to lease the closed New Orleans Adolescent Hospital without restoring mental-health services or force Children’s out of an existing lease if it does not, clearing the way for an operator that would bring back those services.

State Rep. Neil Abramson wants whoever operates NOAH to be required to bring back previous mental-health services, while state Rep. Helena Moreno said she wants to see Children’s be allowed to take control of the property so it can expand its services.

The issue of NOAH’s future arose earlier this month when Abramson went before the New Orleans City Council to announce that Children’s had signed a lease for the property. Under the lease agreement, Children’s would be required to bring back mental-health services that were lost when the hospital closed.

The state, which owns the hospital in Uptown, closed it in 2009 citing economic conditions. Patients were then sent to other facilities, including Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville.

Following Abramson’s March 21 announcement, however, Children’s issued a statement saying that the hospital’s operators were “puzzled” by the news.

The hospital said it signed the lease to accommodate its growing number of patients and that it hoped to “continue negotiations with the state to purchase the property.”

Abramson pointed out that by signing the lease, Children’s agreed to restore services NOAH provided before 2010.

A bill he filed on Friday would still require Children’s to bring back those mental-health services or face a termination of the lease since it would be voided if those services are not offered again.

The 99-year lease for the property was signed Jan. 25 but includes a clause that allows Children’s to terminate it for any reason up to June 20.

If Children’s terminates the lease before that time, Abramson’s bill would allow Ochsner Health Systems to sign a lease for the property.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of different providers,” Abramson said. “Ochsner would be a good fit.”

Should Ochsner fail to lease the property by Dec. 1, according to Abramson’s bill, the state would then issue a request for proposals from others. Abramson said the interest in operating NOAH is high among other health-care providers.

“The bottom line is we need to get more mental-health services (for children and adolescents),” Abramson said.

Moreno’s bill would repeal the requirement that the NOAH property be used as a mental-health facility, including inpatient and outpatient services provided before 2010.

She said the hospital has a space shortage and that NOAH has sat in ruins for too long, making her proposed bill necessary to get it back into commerce while expanding Children’s Hospital’s reach.

“Children’s treats 60,000 patients annually, and the NOAH property is vital for the expansion of outpatient services, which will also afford the flexibility to expand inpatient beds and support services,” said Moreno, who filed the legislation with fellow state Reps. Walter Leger, Jared Brossett and state Sen. J.P. Morrell.

For its part, Children’s said it offers a “significant” amount of child, adolescent and adult behavioral health services at its Calhoun Street campus, which formerly housed DePaul Hospital. Operating NOAH in its previous incarnation that includes inpatient mental health care would be “economically impossible,” Children’s spokesman Brian Landry.

He said Children’s has 62 psychiatric beds, including 33 pediatric beds, at the Calhoun campus.

Meanwhile, Landry said, Children’s is in the process of arranging to reopen mental-health-care beds that were eliminated due to budget reductions. And 60 more beds will be put into service through Children’s operation of the new University Medical Center. Children’s, which also operates Touro Infirmary, is in the process of working out a public-private partnership that would allow Louisiana Children’s Medical Center to operate the new UMC under construction on the edge of Mid-City.

Abramson pointed out that the reopening of the beds that were eliminated and the new beds at the UMC will all be adult beds, something Landry confirmed.

But, Landry said, in 2009 NOAH provided 15 adolescent inpatient psychiatric beds and 20 adult inpatient psychiatric beds. Now with the 33 beds on the Calhoun campus, there are 26 adolescent beds and seven beds for children, Landry said.

The 2013 session begins at noon April 8 and will end no later than 6 p.m. June 6.