One would think that Dr. Frank Opelka, a former U.S. Army surgeon, who is the recently appointed leader of LSU’s Health System, would be averse to the not-so accidental “friendly fire” that he is now engaged in toward his own hospital system.
Opelka is on record denigrating the performance of his Louisiana public hospital system, which is one of the most-efficient safety-net hospital systems in the country, with residency programs that win national recognition. In testimony before a legislative committee, he showed a slide of roughly 2 percent annual growth in health-care spending at LSU from 2003 to 2011, which is well below medical inflation and less than half of the growth in Department of Health and Hospitals’ Medicaid program.
He does this in a dramatic bar chart comparison and explains that LSU’s rising costs are requiring him to change the model. Any other health-care entity would be looking to change to an efficient model that can operate with only 2 percent expenditure growth. Can his private-sector models offer these services with the same low cost to the taxpayers? True costs of his private models haven’t even been addressed. He testified further that patients do not get good preventive care at LSU despite years of performance data that show otherwise.
Why would Opelka do this? Following coaching from the governor’s office, he has to demonstrate that the LSU public system is a bad performer in order to justify a plan to dismantle the system and privatize. This is Bobby Jindal’s standard modus operandi. You create a straw-man failure of the public entity then swoop in with “reforms” which cut public programs that provide critical services to our citizens. Forget the fact that there is not a sound alternative for care developed prior to the disassembling.
We are expected to have faith that those arrangements will be there. The problem is, the destruction has already begun, and patient care is already being affected.
Does this approach sound familiar? Teachers? Office of Group Benefits? Department of Corrections? Many at LSU have worked hard to provide a high-quality and cost-efficient experience for our patients in the face of repeated budget cuts and layoffs directed by our governor.
Now to have that record distorted by our own leader not only damages employee morale but erodes public confidence in the system. With Opelka calling the shots, we all need to be ready to duck.
Legislators have to stop this before it is too late. Louisiana needs its public hospital system. It is a travesty that Louisiana is one of the poorest states and will have no safety-net hospitals for its citizens and no public training hospitals for future doctors for the state.