Let the dismantling begin.
The LSU Board of Supervisors, packed with 11 of its 15 members who contributed an aggregate of more than $225,900 to Gov. Piyush Jindal’s political campaigns, voted Friday to take the first official step toward what will likely become the complete destruction of the LSU Health System.
The board, which since April has fired, demoted or reassigned LSU President John Lombardi, health system head Dr. Fred Cerise, Interim LSU Public Hospital CEO Roxanne Townsend and LSU System General Counsel Ray Lamonica, voted on Friday to authorize LSU hospitals in Shreveport, Monroe and Alexandria to develop requests for proposals (RFPs) for public-private partnerships for the three hospitals.
Jindal has already slashed $14 million in appropriations for Lallie Kemp Regional Medical Center in Tangipahoa Parish. That represents nearly 35 percent of the facility’s total budget and will mean the loss of surgery, cardiology and ICU services and dramatic cuts to oncology, gynecology and disease management as well as up to 150 staff members who stand to lose their jobs.
Additionally, the LSU Hospital in Bogalusa had its budget cut by $3 million, forcing the facility to close several clinics and to absorb pediatrics into primary care.
In Mandeville, Southeast Louisiana Hospital is slated for closure beginning next month, leaving the Florida parishes, Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes with no state mental health treatment centers.
W.O. Moss Regional Medical Center in Lake Charles also was designated for massive budget cuts and University Medical Center (UMC) in Lafayette was earmarked for $4.2 million in cuts but Jindal said the LSU plan would “protect critical services.
In an apparent effort to head off employee protests, UMC administrator Larry Dorsey notified employees not to attend a public rally—on or off the clock—protesting the cutbacks subject to disciplinary measures. That email was in stark violation of state civil service rules which specifically allow employees to attend such rallies as long as it is on their own time.
The Shreveport Times Friday morning published a story saying that LSU System supervisors would vote later in the day on beginning the process to develop RFPs on public-private hospital partnerships for hospitals in Shreveport, Monroe and Alexandria.
LSU Health spokesperson Sally Croom said the resolution, which was not added to the board’s agenda until Thursday, apparently after Lamonica was forced to resign as general counsel, and after the reassignment of Townsend, would give officials authority to develop an RFP.
Late Friday, as has become the custom of the administration, the announcement was formally made. Robert Barish, chancellor of LSU Health Shreveport, notified “faculty, staff and friends” by memorandum.
“As promised, I wanted to update you on the most recent activity regarding our continuing efforts to ensure a successful future for LSU Health Shreveport in the wake of the federal cuts to Louisiana’s Medicaid budget,” he said. “As you might recall, we were asked to explore several approaches to address the continuing budget challenges or our hospital system.
“Today, the LSU Board of Supervisors authorized us to explore public-private partnerships for our three hospitals. It is important to note that this is being done to see how collaboration with other hospitals might look and whether this may be a workable option.
“We will follow the Board instructions to explore this option, which is among several we are looking at during this fact-finding process. We have been looking at other hospitals which have faced similar situations successfully.
“We are committed to a thorough fact-finding process and exploring possibilities that would ensure continuation of our important missions of education, patient care and research.
“I will keep you updated as more information becomes available.”
It was not immediately known if similar messages were sent to employees of the facilities in Monroe and Alexandria.
The resolution passed by the board said:
• BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University that LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport and Health Care Services Division are hereby authorized to develop and seek a Request for Proposal for the purpose of exploring public private partnerships for the LSUHSC-S affiliated hospitals, namely the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport, the E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe and the Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville/Alexandria and each of the hospitals in Health Care Services Division; and
• BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this is necessary for identifying potential partners and long-term strategies which may help ensure the organization’s clinical services and financial stability in light of budgetary challenges caused by the recent decrease in federal Medicaid funding; and
• BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the authority to seek a Request for Proposal does not mandate the Request for Proposal be released, nor does it mandate a proposal be accepted should one be released. The President shall have the discretion to authorize the release of the Request for Proposal and to accept the proposal that he deems in the best interest of the university.”
So, there you have it. A figurehead president brought out of retirement to replace a president who had a bad habit of being candid and outspoken is given the final authority to release the RFP and to accept the proposal “that he deems in the best interest of the university.”
What are the odds that this interim president and his hand-picked board will take any action, up and including taking a bathroom break without the approval of Piyush Jindal?
We already have more than sufficient evidence that Jindal is rapidly moving toward successfully destroying public health care in Louisiana. The closure of Charity Hospital in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, though nearly three years before he came to power, lay the groundwork for his later actions.
The federal government’s decision to slash Louisiana’s Medicaid appropriation by more than $572 million—along with state cuts of $287 million, bringing the total loss of funding to $859 million—simply gave him a convenient opportunity to accelerate a program he already had in place.
One need only look at what Jindal has done to higher education and public education to see a dangerous trend of cutbacks in crucial public services. His obsession with granting tax exemptions totaling $5 billion a year for corporate donors, transferring funds from parish school boards to private, for-profit schools, and forcing state colleges and universities to increase tuition to cover budgetary cuts has put the state on a dangerous collision course with fiscal reality that will remain long after Jindal has moved on to a cabinet position or in pursuit of higher office.
Jindal won’t be around to answer for his policies…but 144 legislators will be.
And so will Louisiana voters.