by Elliott Stonecipher
As we know, Louisiana is now transitioning from state-owned hospitals to those which are private or not-for-profit, all a part of Governor Jindal’s “privatization” push. In Shreveport, where the LSU Hospital is being taken over by the Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF), a date of particular note and meaning is next week, August 12th, when Civil Service-mandated employee “layoff notices” will be mailed to current employees. Those who wish to continue working will re-apply, and will learn over the following few weeks if they have been rehired. (SEE the specific timeline here.) Though BRF has said publicly that 200 job losses are expected, multiple sources directly involved in the process expect job losses will be much higher.
News media coverage – and, thus, public awareness – of the details of the unique takeover of LSU Hospital by BRF was boosted with yesterday’s news story from/by the Associated Press. Written by Supervisory Correspondent Melinda Deslatte, the story was, I believe, filed on AP’s national wire, given that the first version I viewed and read was on the Miami Herald website. [Though the story was run (SEE it here) on the Shreveport Times website yesterday (Tuesday), it has not yet appeared in the local paper’s print edition, nor is it posted on the websites of the Monroe News-Star or Alexandria Town Talk.]
As those of us who work in and/or around the news media have come to rely upon, Melinda Deslatte’s news story cuts quickly to the chase with these opening paragraphs:
“Management of two LSU hospitals in north Louisiana is being turned over to a nonprofit research foundation that has never run a patient care facility, raising concerns about whether it has the experience and the financing needed to oversee the public hospitals.
The privatization of the university-run hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe is in contrast to the approach Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration took in south Louisiana, where nearly all of LSU’s facilities are being overseen by companies that run other private hospitals in the area.The Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, or BRF, has more limited resources to pump into hospital operations and no background in hospital management.
But on Oct. 1, the research foundation — led by a Jindal campaign donor and member of the LSU System governing board — will take over one of the state’s largest university-run hospitals.”
The remainder of the report lands equally dead-center. Given the number of ways the BRF take-over does not meet the specifically, repeatedly stated goals of Governor Jindal’s edict to “privatize” all state hospitals, and given the truly extraordinary secrecy in which this deal for public healthcare has been put together, and given the heavy-handed intimidation tactics a group of state employees and others are using to stomp-out any public questioning of the deal, and given that the determinative contract between BRF and the LSU Board of Supervisors was approved with 50 blank pages, and given the extraordinary involvement of some elected officials in the “new” hospital’s organizational structure, exponentially more transparency would be required for the citizenry to understand – much less comfortably support – the arrangement.
There is no mystery surrounding why so many good-government alarms have been triggered by this deal. Ms. Deslatte’s article appropriately places this explanation in the public domain, precisely where it belongs. With due respect to some who seem to believe otherwise, the entirety of this issue is public. BRF is not a private partner using its own money: it functions, and seeks to run a hospital, with and by public contracts and leases, and thanks to a property tax paid by homeowners and businesses. Its institutional alter-ego, the LSU Medical School, is a public entity. Personnel are yet public employees. This transition should occur in the brightest of governmental sunshine and openness, not in darkness and studied secrecy guarded by heavy-handedness. The loss of hundreds of jobs, even if truly necessary, has no business being accomplished any way but openly, and with trustworthy public oversight. These are public, not private, matters.
For those who care to read additional information on the subject, a recent online report by career journalist Tom Aswell on his Louisiana Voice blog (here) is instructive. The bottom quarter or so of Tom’s piece is about BRF’s contracts with the State of Louisiana, information at the heart of any effort by the public to understand BRF’s position as a “privatization” partner for the LSU Hospital in Shreveport.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the unedited sharing of his work is requested and appreciated.