by Elliott Stonecipher
From Melody Brumble of The Shreveport Times comes the news that the Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF) has extended the deadline for nominations to the board of its new BRF Hospital Holdings (BRFHH) subsidiary. That entity will become lessee of the formerly state-supported LSU Hospital in Shreveport and E. A. Conway hospital in Monroe on October 1st. Nominations for board members will now be accepted through October 4th.
In a previous report on these subjects, I noted that initial planning for the qualifications for the BRFHH board notably did not prohibit family members of elected officials from serving. As noted by Ms. Brumble’s report, and as shown on the Nomination form now online, such a prohibition is now explicitly stated. Given the widely known involvement of some elected officials in the planning for operations of BRFHH hospitals, this prohibition is excellent news, assuming its enforcement.
Also notable in the language on the nomination form is the following:
“If selected to serve on the Board of Directors, must submit disclosure of conflicts of interest.”
This language may or may not prove meaningful to the public. Since the public has no idea to which “conflicts” the language applies, or how such will be determined and monitored, and given that the contract between BRFHH and the State of Louisiana specifically exempts BRFHH from the implicit public oversight afforded by the Louisiana Public Records Act, verification of this statement will be impossible this side of long, hellish and expensive litigation. The taxpaying public cannot be fairly expected to blindly agree with the BRFHH definition of an individual’s “conflicts of interest” given that it saw fit to exclude itself from the Public Records Act in its controlling contract with the state. Neither can taxpayers be expected to trust in an organization which now opts to be “privately operated,” regardless that it has been built and maintained by tax dollars.
In patient revenue alone, almost $450,000,000 flows to and through these two hospitals and their clinics each year, with total annual revenue estimated to be nearer $650,000,000. The passing of these taxpayer-owned facilities to BRF – an entity with no experience in the management of hospitals – has set off alarms throughout the state and elsewhere. While several Louisiana public hospitals have recently been leased to hospital companies by way of Governor Bobby Jindal’s so-called “privatization” push, no other lessee of those hospitals is, like BRF, also a public entity. BRF is almost exclusively government-supported, and, in fact, is itself a taxing “authority” by the fact of its operation: Biomed levies, collects and spends $2,500,000 each year from a 1.74-mill property tax on Caddo Parish property owners.
The “private” management of BRF and BRFHH – and the two are, in fact, one and the same in context – is at the heart of the inability of many taxpayers to trust and support this endeavor. What were set out by Governor Jindal to be “public-private” partnerships for the purpose of more cost-effective care of the indigent and other poor are in fact “public-public” in this instance. By its very design, BRF was never situated legally, much less politically, to wake up one day and decide to name-and-claim a “private” label, shielding itself from public accountability by doing so. Were BRF a private hospital company available to partner with the state in these arrangements, it – like other actual hospital companies in the other such arrangements around the state – would have tens-of-millions available dollars to do the deal. BRF does not have those dollars. By various ways and means, it is the state and federal government, i.e., the taxpayers, who are fronting BRF’s deal.
At the very least, BRF should give up – now, not when it’s tax millage must be renewed in 2017 – its tax on Caddo property owners. No other entity in BRF’s position in these deals around the state is allowed to levy a property tax, and BRF should not be allowed to, either. With well above a half-billion dollars a year sloshing and spilling as it gushes through BRFHH, the taxpayers’ measly $2,500,000 to Biomed in property taxes should be left in their decidedly more meager accounts and pocketbooks.
Caddo Parish (and other) taxpayers have given their personal financial support to BRF for a lot of years. BRF would be wise to now honor those taxpayers by publicly acknowledging its new circumstances … and by ending the tax it has long charged them.
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.