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Archive for the ‘LSU’ Category

The timeliness of Tuesday’s observation about holding our public officials accountable has come into play less than 24 hours after the post went up.

Today’s (March30) Baton Rouge Advocate revealed that only two of Bobby Jindal’s nine public-private partnership hospital contracts will be funded in the next fiscal year, a move that is certain to adversely affect low-income residents seeking medical care. http://theadvocate.com/news/15333761-70/seven-out-nine-public-hospitals-unfunded-in-next-years-budget-including-baton-rouge-and-lafayette

As severe as the projected cuts are ($58.4 million to Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge and $51.2 million to Lafayette General Health Center alone), Gov. John Bel Edwards appointee Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee has been AWOL at hearings before the House Appropriations Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

The latest crisis is, of course, directly attributable to the short-sightedness of Bobby Jindal and his obsession with privatizing everything in state government that moved—even to the extent of having his lap dog LSU Board of Supervisors approve a contract turning over medical facilities in Shreveport and Monroe to private concerns which contained 50 blank pages.

As things now stand, it appears the only hospitals to be spared the knife (if you will pardon a terrible pun) are the LSU Medical Centers in New Orleans and Shreveport and they survived only because they house LSU medical schools.

The fiscal year 2017 budget calls for a 10 percent funding cut for DHH. That comes to $283 million right off the top but the number escalates to $750 million when the loss of federal matching funds are factored into the equation.

Besides OLOL in Baton Rouge and Lafayette General, other public-private hospitals impacted by the cuts include those in Alexandria, Monroe, Houma, Bogalusa and Lake Charles.

LSU Health Sciences Center Chancellor Dr. Larry Hollier testified that he was worried about the prospect of seeing the public-private arrangements go belly up. OLOL, he said, has 150 residents in training and Lafayette has 82. In all, LSU has about 800 residents scattered about the state.

State Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) noted that residents of north Baton Rouge, a predominantly black area, have lost both inner community hospitals when Earl K. Long was closed and later torn down and when Baton Rouge General-Mid City closed down its emergency room a year ago Thursday (March 31).

So with all this bad news swirling about, where was the DHH secretary?

Sure, DHH Undersecretary Jeff Reynolds testified but was unable to give clear cut answers to legislators’ questions about how funds saved from Medicaid expansion might be used to offset the DHH shortfall.

But Gee was still MIA. Reynolds said she was absent because of personal issues but that lame excuse was quickly shot down by DHH spokesperson Bob Johannessen told LSU’s Manship School News Service that Gee was spending spring break with her family.

Johannessen’s candor could get him in hot water. The boss never likes it when a subordinate reveals something that puts him or her in a bad light. And face it, this is a pretty bad light. He did recover some lost ground, however, when he added that legislators who were critical of her absence were “grandstanding.”

Well, yeah. That’s what politicians do. So why make it so easy for them?

Rep. Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville) said he doesn’t recall seeing Gee at any Appropriations Committee or Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget meetings.

Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) was even more critical. “It’s getting a little troublesome that the secretary doesn’t come,” he said. “The taxpayers want to hear from the boss when we start talking about these kinds of dollars.” http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/2016/03/29/millions-dollars-cut-state-hospitals/82402336/

Spring break? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? (the new polite way of saying WTF?)

Edwards appointed Gee, a professor of health policy and management in obstetrics and gynecology at LSU, to head DHH in early January. http://new.dhh.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/page/7/n/55

We just had a DHH secretary (Kathy Kliebert) whose brother-in-law got into hot water with the Louisiana Board of Ethics (does anyone have any idea how difficult that is to do after Jindal revamped the ethics board in 2008?) because he failed to disclose his employment by state Medicaid contractor Magellan Health Services. http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/11707352-123/brother-in-law-of-state-health-secretary

We just got rid of a governor who for eight years steadfastly refused to be held accountable for his action (or inaction, as the case may be).

Her appointment was described as “among the most important appointments Edwards will make in his new administration” by NOLA.com back in January.

At the time of the announcement of her appointment, she said, “I pledge to you I will use all of the skills I’ve used as a physician, a patient, a parent, and a policymaker to do everything I can to improve the lives and health of people in this great state.”

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/01/john_bel_edwards_dhh_secretary.html

Dr. Gee, those noble words might mean a little more to the taxpayers of this state if you would take your position more seriously and appear at important committee hearings. A public face on an agency in crisis mode is more than important: it’s critical.

It’s all about accountability.

We’ve already had one agency head (Kristy Nichols) to duck out on a committee hearing to attend a boy band concert in New Orleans. We don’t need an encore of that performance. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/06/kristy-kreme-knows-one-direction-ducks-out-on-legislative-committee-for-boy-band-concert-at-n-o-smoothie-king-arena/

Going on spring break at a time when the low-income residents of this state are staring at having to overcome even greater hurdles to obtain decent health care sends the wrong message—a message that we’ve become all too familiar with over the past eight years.

And that message is arrogance.

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True to form, some legislators are already diving for cover or accusing higher education officials of crying wolf over the state’s lack of support for state colleges and universities. Either way, it all amounts to a shameless attempt to shift the blame as a means of deflecting attention from their pitiful performance over the past eight years

Some of those doing the loudest protesting might want to look inward to examine the hypocrisy of their current positions on funding higher education.

Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie), for example. Appel opined in a Senate Education Committee meeting on Monday that he just didn’t think it is fair that education leaders are getting the public all worked up with scare tactics and doomsday propheteering—not to be confused with his own profiteering, of course.

“This is the first day of the process and the news media is flashing all this stuff up and getting the people all worked up,” Appel said in accusing higher ed leaders of sensationalizing the real impact of budget cuts and of creating what he termed “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Of course, Appel is not one to pass up a good opportunity when he gets the chance. As Chairman of the Senate Education Committee two years ago, he was in a unique position to know of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in time to sink between $5,000 and $24,999 into Discovery Communications stock just in time to make a killing. APPEL REPORT PDF

Senate Education Chairman Appel purchases Discovery stock week before company enters into state Techbook agreement

Since 2003, former and current members of the Louisiana House and Senate have used more than $710,000 of their personal campaign funds to purchase tickets to LSU athletic events. This despite the existence of several opinions issued by the State Board of Ethics specifically prohibiting the purchase of athletic tickets “for any personal use unrelated to a campaign or the holding of public office.” (Emphasis ours) http://ethics.la.gov/EthicsOpinion/DocView.aspx?id=7169&searchid=1e6d42e0-0081-4d47-b252-2473624ce865&dbid=0

LSU SPORTS PAYMENTS FROM CAMPAIGN FUNDS

So now we have legislators like State Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe) criticizing taking higher education officials to task for suggesting that schools might close and TOPS may be ended because of a mere $970 million budgetary shortfall this fiscal year and a pending $2 billion budget hole for next fiscal year.

Walsworth, it should be noted, used $4,210 of his campaign funds in 2013 and 2014 on LSU athletic events.

But that pales in comparison to State Sen. Norbert Chabert (R-Houma) who went ballistic over a report that his alma mater Nicholls State University in Thibodaux might be forced to close temporarily. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/2016/02/15/even-best-case-nicholls-close-temporarily/80403372/

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said. “I think it’s unnecessary and a bad call. Are you telling me that the university in the fifth largest market in Louisiana that serves 6,300 students is going to close? This isn’t going to happen.”

Of course not, Norby. And Merrill Lynch, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual and a few hundred banks weren’t going to bite the dust starting back in 2008 either, were they? And shoot, Bernie Madoff was a man to be trusted with our investments, right? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bank_failures_in_the_United_States_(2008%E2%80%93present)

While while we ponder the wisdom of Chabert’s assurances, it might be worth noting that since 2009, he spent a cool $35,750 on tickets to LSU athletic events. It seems it’s okay to plow OPM (other people’s money—and that’s what campaign funds really are) into athletics, but don’t let university come crying about the shortage of funding for academics or the deplorable conditions of university infrastructure.

It would also be timely to point out here that athletics are not the only expenditure items for legislators’ campaign funds. There are the expensive meals, the leasing of luxury automobiles, Saints and Pelicans tickets, payments of ethics fines for campaign violations (expressly prohibited but done with impunity), and in at least one case, one legislator paying his personal federal income taxes with campaign money. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/05/11/hidden-in-plain-sight-campaign-funds-provide-opulent-lifestyle-of-meals-game-tickets-and-travel-for-legislators/

But because the focus for the moment is on higher education, we will limit our examination of campaign expenditures to LSU sports.

Here are some of the more flagrant cases we found:

  • Senate President John Alario, one of those who signed off on Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge, spent more than $19,000 on LSU tickets;
  • Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville): $11,500 since 2008;
  • Rep. John Berthelot (R-Gonzales): $19,280 since 2011;
  • Rep. Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport): $21,660 since 2010;
  • Rep. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero): $24,540 since 2008;
  • Rep. Michael Danahay (D-Sulphur): $17,600 since 2008;
  • Former Rep. Noble Ellington (recently appointed as legislative director for Gov. Edwards): $46,500 since 2002);
  • Sen. Dale Erdy (R-Livingston): $24,000 since 2003;
  • Former legislator and former Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert: $13,700 since 2009);
  • Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe): $22,700 since 2009;
  • Former House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles): $31,900 since 2008;
  • Rep. Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte): $18,400 since 2009;
  • Sen. Danny Martiny (R-Metairie): $13,800 since 2002;
  • Sen. Jonathan Perry (R-Kaplan): $21,000 since 2009;
  • Former Rep. Erich Ponti (R-Baton Rouge): $18,700;
  • Former Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette): $23,600 since 2004;
  • Sen. Gary Smith (D-Norco): $33,800 since 2002;
  • Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi): $15,100 since 2010;
  • Former Sen. Sherri Buffington (R-Shreveport): $23,800 since 2009.

Buffington, then Sherri Cheek, is the same legislator who, in January 2004 traveled to New Orleans to attend the NCAA national championship football game between LSU and Oklahoma but forgot his tickets. No problem. She simply called State Police and arranged for a Pony Express-type relay by state troopers from Shreveport to New Orleans to deliver the six tickets. When word of the special deliver leaked out, she expressed her regret (don’t they always feel just awful—after they’re caught?) and said she would repay State Police $448.50, based on her computation of 12 hours of trooper pay. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1060246/posts

So while certain members of the legislature grandstand over the current and projected budgetary issues, it is important to remember they are a large part of the problem.

And higher ed is by no means the only fiscal issues before the legislature during the current special session.

There are grave cuts being proposed for health care which will be covered in greater detail in future posts here.

But a quick overview shows drastic cuts to programs serving the elderly, those on dialysis, the developmentally disadvantaged, hospice, and, of course, the disastrous venture into privatizing state hospitals.

It’s going to be difficult for legislators to rail against those with real needs to help keep them alive or well. To do so would truly expose the hypocrisy of those who claim to represent their constituencies.

As we said in an earlier post, this is the one chance lawmakers have to get it right. Rhetoric will not save the day. Denial will not solve the problems. Continuing the same fiscally irresponsible practices will not plug the gaping hole in the state budget.

And this is not the time to be point fingers or scolding administrators.

The time is now and the place is here to come together and to do what must be done to solve the state’s multitude of problems.

Anything less and wholesale recalls should be initiated immediately as soon as this session is over.

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Predictably, the business community is in high dudgeon over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ initial proposals to address the fiscal mess left by his predecessor—you know, the guy who thought he was presidential timber.

Judging from the early reaction of his die-hard opponents, including the Louisiana’s Rush Limburger wannabe Jeff (so) Sadow, Edwards is already a major flop just two weeks into the job. As much as I detest Mike Foster’s love child, I gave him nearly four years before abandoning any hope that he had the slightest concern for the people of this state.

Personally, I can’t think of a single person on the face of the good earth who could come into this job and successfully turn the state around in eight years, let alone four. It’s a daunting task that no sane candidate should relish.

In coaching, no one wants to be the one to follow a legend. You want to be the one who follows the one who follows the legend. Well, no one should want to be the one to inherit a disaster. You want to be the one who follows the one who tried to right the ship so if things are looking up, you can ride the momentum and take credit for the recovery.

With that in mind, here are a few observations:

The Baton Rouge Advocate on Sunday ran an outstanding analysis of the undeniable disaster in high education funding left by Jindal. The story was especially timely in light of Edwards’ announcement of even more draconian cuts facing high ed as he tries to cope with $750 million in budget deficits for the current fiscal year and a $1.9 billion budget gap for next fiscal year—all to be covered with shrinking revenues. http://theadvocate.com/news/14621878-123/special-report-how-startling-unique-cuts-have-transformed-louisianas-universities

LSU President F. King Alexander has gone on record as saying summer school may have to be cancelled at LSU. That’s the same type of dire warning as his “financial exigency” threat last year. That worked to get legislators’ attention and warded off the threatened bankruptcy. This threat of the cancellation of summer classes is a similar wakeup call to lawmakers—if they can get their heads from the place where only their proctologists can find them.

Even Jindal’s head cheerleader Rolfe McCollister inexplicably allowed Jeremy Alford to reveal in McCollister’s Baton Rouge Business Report that Edwards learned to his surprise that Piyush had approved millions of dollars in pay raises and made almost two dozen board and commission appointments that were not announced.

As a sign that McCollister may not be paying enough attention to his publication, he also allowed an Associated Press story that said Jindal left Edwards a gaggle of economic development deal IOUs.

But when Edwards suggested a tax package to help meet the fiscal disaster head-on, you’d have though from LABI’s reaction, that he was demanding the first-born of every businessman in the state.

Never mind that the Tax Foundation released a report last week that revealed that Louisiana has the sixth-lowest tax burden in America in the 2012 fiscal year.

While the rest of the country was paying an average of one dollar for every $10 earned in state and local taxes (exclusive of federal taxes), Louisiana citizens were paying only 76 cents for every $10 earned.

The per capita state and local taxes of $2,940 paid is fourth-lowest in the country and the state’s cigarette tax is one of the lowest. Edwards is seeking to increase the 86-cent cigarette tax to $1.08, which would bring Louisiana more in line with other states.

The state’s effective property tax rate of .5 percent is third lowest but the combined state and local sales tax rate (arguably the most regressive tax) of 8.9 percent is third highest.

Edwards says the days of using budget gimmicks are over. “This administration will remove the smoke and mirrors and provide the facts about where we are,” he said, in a not-so-subtle slap at Jindal. http://theadvocate.com/news/14619324-75/gov-john-bel-edwards-outlines-budget-options

State Sen. Jack Donahue, in a rare exhibition of lucidity for a legislator, told The Advocate, “…the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and so what did we spend (state revenue) on? Motion pictures; we spent it on solar power; we spent it on enterprise zone tax credits; we spent it on new market tax credits. We spent millions and millions and millions of dollars on all those things; so obviously, they were more important than our education.” http://theadvocate.com/news/14621878-123/special-report-how-startling-unique-cuts-have-transformed-louisianas-universities

Well, Senator, you said it. And you were oh, so accurate to employ the pronoun “we.” Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 and yours is flawless. Other than Edwards, Rep. Rogers Pope, and Sens. Ed Murray and Dan Claitor, and maybe a couple others, I can’t recall many objections to the Jindal giveaway years coming from either chamber over the past eight years.

So now, Edwards wants to roll back some those insanely, ill-advised, foolish, thoughtless corporate tax breaks, and the corporate world is already screaming rape. Hey, guys, the honeymoon is—or should be—over. It’s way past time for the middle- and low-income citizens of this state to be relieved of the heaviest tax burdens while you guys get all those tax breaks, exemptions and incentives to create minimum-wage jobs—if jobs are even created at all. I mean, does anyone really think oil and gas will leave Louisiana when the oil and gas is here? To get to it, they have to come here. Do we really need Enterprise Zone credits for Wal-Marts in St. Tammany Parish?

As Edwards said, it’s time for the governor’s office to be “not business as usual.”

He will make mistakes. He will do things I don’t agree with. I was never under the illusion that I would agree with every single action he takes. No politician, like a rooster in a henhouse, could ever please everyone all the time.

And when he does displease me, I will say so. But for now, I’m more than willing to at least let him get his feet wet. We all owe him that much.

 

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I am certain that I will not agree with every move John Bel Edwards makes as governor. The re-appointment of Mike Edmonson as Superintendent of State Police comes immediately to mind. Such is the nature of politics. No man alive can please everyone every time.

And when I do disagree, as in the Edmonson re-appointment, I will say so. I believe Edwards understands and respects that.

In the meantime, I am willing give him a chance. He has a monumental task before him in his efforts to help the state overcome eight years of Bobby Jindal’s reign of error. He must form coalitions with Republicans in the legislature in order to even approach a successful administration. But I certainly don’t expect legislators to be the whipped puppies they were during Jindal’s misrule.

I gave Jindal that same benefit of the doubt. If I am to be honest, I have to admit that I voted for Jindal not once, but twice. I voted for him in 2003 when he lost to Kathleen Blanco and again in 2007 when he won. I honestly thought he meant it when he said he supported state employees and that he stood for transparency and a high ethical bar. I believed him when he said his appointments would be based on “what you know, not who you know.”

Well, we all know how that went down. He tried to gut state retirement, he destroyed the Office of Group Benefits, gave away the state charity hospital system, drove higher education to the brink of exigency (bankruptcy), and worse, he set a new low in the areas of transparency and ethics. And one only has to examine his appointments to the myriad state boards and commissions. They are dominated (and that’s putting it lightly) with major donors to his various political campaigns. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bobby-jindals-biggest-donors-benefited-from-his-administration_55e9e976e4b002d5c075fb17

https://louisianavoice.com/category/campaign-contributions/

Moreover, “what you know” didn’t go too far in other areas, either. The number of state employees and legislators he teagued for daring to disagree with him is a very long list. And his “deliberative process” catch-all denial of public records threw a heavy blanket on any hopes of transparency.

So, it was with some surprise that I read Rolfe McCollister’s diatribe in his Baton Rouge Business Report this week. https://www.businessreport.com/article/publisher-whats-big-secret

Of all the ones to whine about any lack of transparency on the part of the governor-elect who has yet to even take office, Rolfe stands alone as the singular standard-bearer of double standards.

He contributed $17,000 to Jindal’s campaigns in 2003, 2006, and 2008. He was treasurer of Jindal’s 2007 gubernatorial campaign and served as chairman of Jindal’s transition team after his 2007 election. He served as director of Jindal’s first fundraising organization, super PAC Believe in Louisiana, and most recently served as treasurer of Believe in Louisiana as it raised funds for Jindal’s presidential campaign.

His Louisiana Business, Inc. partner, Julio Melara also was a player. Melara and his wife contributed an additional $8,500 to Jindal campaigns

And what did Rolfe and Julio get in return for all that?

Well Julio wound up with a pretty nice appointment to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome Board), complete with all the perks that go with the appointment.

McCollister was named to the LSU Board of Supervisors and that’s where the hypocrisy really boils to the surface. Board members get choice tickets to LSU sporting events (including a private suite in Tiger Stadium). http://forgotston.com/2013/07/16/need-a-lsu-tuition-break/

And until the quota was reduced earlier this year, each member could award up to 20 tuition-free scholarships to LSU. Even after the reduction, they still get 15 scholarships each. http://theadvocate.com/news/11898955-123/lsu-board-revamps-number-of

Those perks could mean more than $100,000 per year per board member. In 2012 alone, the board handed out $1.3 million in scholarships to their friends—even as college tuition was skyrocketing for the average student with no contacts on the board. http://thelensnola.org/2013/07/11/lsu-board-of-supervisors-awards-1-3-million-through-little-known-scholarship-program/

Rolfe didn’t invent the perks and though he tied with two other members for the fewest scholarships awarded—five. But you never heard him raise a single objection to their abuse.

Rolfe, as publisher of the Business Report, purports to be an objective chronicler of political news. You would think that as such, he would champion all efforts to obtain records of a public body.

You would think wrong. He, along with four other members, did not respond to an email from reporter Tyler Bridges, then writing for The Lens of New Orleans, seeking comment. How’s that for transparency?

He certainly came off as a bit petulant this week when he went on a rampage about Edwards’s education transition team’s meeting in private “at least four times.”

There’s more. “McCollister notes it was Edwards who proclaimed at a Public Affairs Research Council forum in April that his administration would be more transparent than previous administrations, saying ‘a scope of secrecy’ has been allowed to exist,” his staff wrote today (Wednesday, Dec. 23). https://www.businessreport.com/article/publisher-gov-elect-edwards-transition-committees-discussing-public-education-big-issues-behind-closed-doors?utm_campaign=dr_pm-2015_Dec_23-15_05&utm_medium=email&utm_source=dr_pm

“But what does conducting all of the discussions of the transition committees behind closed doors in secret do for the citizens? What I haven’t seen yet is an editorial from The Advocate or The Times-Picayune objecting to the discussion of ‘public’ education in private. Why not? I thought transparency was their big issue.

Rolfe has a very short memory. I can’t recall the Jindal transition team over which Rolfe presided ever holding a public meeting prior to Jindal’s taking office. And when The Advocate, the Times-Picayune and the LSU Reveille were demanding the release of the names of all the candidates for the LSU presidency, where was he?

It’s hard to tell because the very one who should have been front and center in championing the right of the public to know who those candidates were, was strangely mute.

Not a peep out of Rolfe who was in a unique position to reason with the boy blunder to release the names.

Likewise, when the LSU Board agreed to that hospital privatization contract with the 50 blank pages, he should have been the first one on his feet shouting that a blank contract was not just questionable, but also not a legal document. Instead, he sat quietly as the contract was approved, laying the groundwork for the litigation over state hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe now winding its way through the courts.

Likewise, not one word of protest when the contract was awarded to a foundation in Shreveport whose CEO was…(wait for it)…a fellow member of the LSU Board.

“The public knows very little in specifics about what Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards will propose and how far he will take some issues,” McCollister wrote. “Transition teams are made up of a majority of his friends, advisers and supporters—or those who think like he does (and Jindal’s wasn’t, Rolfe?). While this exercise is often ceremonial, it can reflect the views and direction of the new governor—and his closest friends and allies who will be whispering in his ear for the next four years (and of course, you never once “whispered in Jindal’s ear, right?). The public education committee has had five meetings in secrecy. What did they talk about, and who said what? We won’t read or hear about it in the media because they weren’t allowed inside—and the press never uttered a peep (Perhaps they learned from your example on the LSU Board, Rolfe.).

To those who don’t know your history, you sound like a champion of pure, open government.

Unfortunately, your words fall far short of matching your actions. Those indignant protests would carry a lot more weight if you had the track record to back them up.

That’s called hypocrisy, Rolfe. And that’s unfortunate, though not necessarily unexpected.

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It looks as though Bobby Jindal’s former commissioner of administration Kristy Nichols will finally have to comply with state regulations. Or maybe not.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics, in typical fashion first put the kibosh on any effort by Kristy Kreme to lobby state government on behalf of her new employer—and then promptly withdrew the opinion.

The board was essentially neutered by Jindal during his rush for ethics “reform” in his first days in office back in 2008. Because of those “reforms,” the board lost considerable steam and all its enforcement powers and it now appears it is missing a spine.

And one has to wonder if the Jindalistas had any influence on the decision to withdraw the unfavorable opinion.

Nichols served as Jindal’s commissioner of administration for three years, from October 2012 to October 2015. Those years were marked by consistent budgetary shortfalls, cuts to higher education and health care, the contentious revamping of premiums and benefits for state employees, retirees and dependents through the Office of Group Benefits and the equally controversial privatization of the state charity hospital system.

She also was sued twice by LouisianaVoice over her failure to produce public records in a timely manner. It was in that area that she enjoyed her greatest success by breaking even. She prevailed in the first lawsuit but lost the second one. She still owes a judgment of $800, plus attorney fees and court costs. She chose to spend even more state money in appealing the decision to the First Circuit Court of Appeal.

She announced in September that she would be going to work for Ochsner Health System as a lobbyist. Well, technically, her new title is vice president of government and corporate affairs. While state law precludes her lobbying the legislative or executive branches for two years, there appears to be no prohibition to her lobbying local governments (parishes and municipalities) on the part of Ochsner.

She contacted the ethics board on Nov. 5 through attorney Kimberly Robinson of the Baton Rouge law firm Jones Walker.

Robinson was recently named by Gov-elect John Bel Edwards to be the new secretary of the Department of Revenue and Taxation.

The board last Thursday (Dec. 17) addressed six specific areas about which Robinson sought opinions. The board shot down four of those and took no position on the remaining two because of what it termed insufficient information, according to Walter Pierce of the INDReporter Web site. http://theind.com/article-22377-Ethics-Board-blocks-Nichols.html

A spokesman for the ethics board, however, told LouisianaVoice on Monday that the opinion has been “withdrawn” and the entire matter re-scheduled for the board’s Feb. 19, 2016, meeting.

The opinion initially would have barred Nichols for two years from:

  • Direct transactions or communications with the Division of Administration;
  • Participating in any transaction, researching or preparing materials for use in or in support of a direct act or communication with a legislator;
  • Communicating or having a transaction with the Department of Health and Hospitals, and
  • Assisting Ochsner in communications or transactions with LSU. The LSU Board of Supervisors currently oversees the public-private partnerships between the state-run hospitals and private health care providers.

There was no immediate explanation of what the remaining two questions from Robinson concerned.

There are several areas of concern in allowing Nichols to lobby state government on behalf of Ochsner, not the least of which is the agreement between the state and Ochsner during her term that allowed Ochsner to partner with the state in running the Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma.

In 2013, the LSU Board of Supervisors signed off on the contract containing 50 blank pages. That contract handed over operation of state-owned hospitals in Lake Charles, Houma, Shreveport and Monroe. The blank pages were supposed to have contained lease terms. Instead, the LSU board left those details to the Jindal administration (read Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols).

Eventually details emerged about the contracts, including that of the Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma. And, thanks to the Louisiana Public Affairs Research Council, the picture began to come into focus.

Leonard Chabert Medical Center was opened in 1978 as a 96-bed facility with 802 employees but by the time it was privatized, it was down to 63 beds.

In 2008, a hospital-based accredited Internal Medicine residency program was begun. In 2011, the hospital’s revenue was 47 percent uncompensated care for the uninsured, 29.5 percent Medicaid, 13 percent Medicare, 5.5 percent state general fund and 6 percent interagency transfer from other departments with only 1 percent being self-generated.

When the Jindal administration moved to unload state hospitals, Chabert was partnered with Southern Regional Medical Corp., a nonprofit entity whose only member is Terrebonne General Medical Center (TGMC).

TGMC is slated to manage Chabert with assistance from a company affiliated with Ochsner Health System, Louisiana’s largest private not-for-profit health system with eight hospitals and forty health centers statewide. Terms of the agreement call for a five-year lease with an automatic renewal after the first year in one-year increments to create a rolling five-year term.

Though Southern Regional is not required to pay rent under terms of the agreement, the Terrebonne Parish Hospital Service District No. 1 is required to make annual intergovernmental transfers of $17.6 million to the Medicaid program for Southern Regional and its affiliates.

The cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) calls for supplemental payments of $31 million to Ochsner. Small wonder then that the Houma Daily Courier described the deal as “a valuable asset to Ochsner’s network of hospitals” and that the deal expands Ochsner’s business profile.

Between 2009 and 2013, Ochsner’s revenue doubled from $900 million to $1.8 billion and the deal would mean more revenue for Ochsner, the Daily Courier said. http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20140325/articles/140329692?p=3&tc=pg

There has never been a reasonable explanation as to why the LSU Board signed off on a blank contract that the Jindal administration would fill in after the fact. Was it just by chance that Nichols, as Commissioner of Administration, was responsible for that task? And was it just happenstance that two years after Ochsner received that $31 million, it saw the need to bring Nichols aboard just as her employment with the Jindal administration was winding down?

LSU Board of Supervisors handed over University Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe to the Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF) even though the CEO of BRF was a sitting member of the LSU board at the time.

Within two years, that deal fell apart and the board and BRF are now involved in complicated litigation.

Meanwhile, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has yet to approve the Jindal/Nichols privatization plan.

 

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