Reposted from Daily Comet
Local lawmakers, parish presidents and hospital officials gathered at Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma to celebrate as Ochsner Health System and Terrebonne General Medical Center assumed management of the charity hospital Monday.
The day was the culmination of months of furious work behind the scenes to nail down a public-private partnership to save the hospital in the face of draconian budget cuts that would have stripped Chabert of much of its staff and services.
Chabert was one of four charity hospitals that completed public-private partnership deals Sunday. Others were Walter O. Moss Hospital in Lake Charles, University Medical Center in Lafayette and the Interim LSU Public Hospital in New Orleans.
LSU and Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge completed a deal in April.
The hospitals came together to sign an agreement that will have Terrebonne General Medical Center leasing the hospital building from the state free of charge in exchange for ensuring the 80-bed medical center continues to provide indigent care, while Ochsner runs the day-to-day operations.
In addition, the board of Terrebonne Hospital Service District No. 1, which oversees Terrebonne General Medical Center, formed a subsidiary board, Southern Regional Medical Corp., to help oversee management of Chabert.
The Houma hospital serves many of the area’s indigent and uninsured residents. As a part of the deal, the state and parish will provide Medicaid supplemental money aimed to assist hospitals that handle a disproportionate share of indigent or uninsured patients. The managing partners are also prohibited from making cuts of 15 percent or more to the hospitals’ budget without legislative approval for the next three years and are prohibited from making any budget cuts of more than 35 percent.
TGMC CEO Phyllis Peoples said the hospital knew it had to step in when Chabert was in crisis because it would be unable to care for the influx of patients it would see if the Chabert closed. In addition, Chabert offers unique services in the region, including an independent medical residency program that was too important to lose.
Michael Hulefeld, executive vice president and chief operation officer of the Ochsner system, said Ochsner has had a history of partnering with the charity hospital. Ochsner resident physicians are trained at Chabert, and the system’s doctors have practiced there since 1978. Both the hospital’s residency program and charity mission will be maintained through the partnership.
“When we got the call to look into this, it was a natural ‘yes,’ ” he said.
On Sunday, the state civil service board sent out layoff notices to 563 of Chabert’s 806 employees.
Hulefeld said last week that the hospital has been working for the past few months to rehire as much of the original staff as possible, and teams have been working at the hospital for the past few months to try to ensure there were few service interruptions.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement Monday that the agreements will help to improve services at the hospitals and help save taxpayers an estimated $100 million a year.
“In Louisiana, we were faced with the unique challenge of adapting a public-run, statewide charity hospital system to the evolving health care needs of our people. While our one-of-a-kind charity hospital system did tremendous work for decades — successfully serving the people of Louisiana and meeting their health care needs — we recognized that we needed to change the way we operate,” Jindal said.
Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, praised the public-private arrangement.
“What we have here is a true public partnership with a private management structure,” Chabert said in an emotional speech before a crowd gathered in Chabert’s lobby. The hospital was named for his father, the late senator. “We can boldly go forward to ensure that we continue the mission of public hospitals to care for our poorest, sickest and elderly residents.”
The partnership was first announced in December after federal Medicaid reimbursement cuts would have slashed more than $14.3 million from Chabert’s budget, eliminating 245 jobs, or more than a quarter of its staff. The hospital would have also been forced to close beds and eliminate clinics and services.
As a part of the deal, Ochsner and TGMC agreed to chip in $5.1 million to help offset the planned budget cuts. Terrebonne Parish also contributed $2 million and Lafourche Parish contributed $1 million.
“You are worth saving. The care you provide is indescribable, which is why we stepped up,” said Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph.
Monday was also the first day for new hospital CEO Ritchie Dupre, who will replace outgoing hospital CEO Rhonda Green. Green was retained by the LSU Health Care Services Division to work as a director of business operations.
Dupre, native and resident of Houma, is the former chief operating officer at Ochsner St. Anne General Hospital in Raceland. Dupre served as the assistant vice president of radiology at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation and director of radiology and special imaging at TGMC. Medical Director Dr. Michael Garcia will stay on with the hospital.
“I cannot tell you how many people have been touched by this hospital that didn’t have a nickel, because it doesn’t matter if you’re poor and you’re sick. Thanks to TGMC and Ochsner, we will continue to care for these people,” Chabert said.
Staff Writer Nikki Buskey can be reached at 448-7636 or email@example.com.