BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's top budget adviser said Friday that the administration plans to spend as much as $15 million to build clinics for two private hospitals in central Louisiana that will be taking over services from the LSU public hospital in Pineville.
If lawmakers agree in the 2014 legislative session, Jindal wants to close the university-run Huey P. Long Medical Center and shift its services to CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital and Rapides Regional Medical Center.
As part of the privatization deal, the state would pay up to $15 million to help expand an inpatient psychiatric facility at the CHRISTUS hospital and to add three new clinics in Alexandria and Pineville that will provide outpatient and specialty services for the uninsured.
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said though the state would pay the construction costs, the clinics and psychiatric facility will be owned by the private hospitals — as long as they continue to provide the safety net care for the uninsured.
"It is contemplated right now that CHRISTUS and Rapides will own and operate the facilities," Nichols said, after a legislative budget committee hearing about the Pineville privatization contract.
Nichols said details about the construction were being negotiated, and the spending plans will need approval from the State Bond Commission. She said the private hospitals weren't expected to pay rent to operate the new clinics, as required in other LSU privatization deals.
Lawmakers reviewing the details of the Huey P. Long plans were largely supportive Friday, including legislators who represent central Louisiana. But for the arrangement to be complete, the full Legislature will need to approve the hospital's shuttering next year.
Rep. Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria, said while he still had questions about how care would be shifted, he trusted the two private hospitals that will take over the services and that they will be paid millions by the state for the uninsured health care services.
But he also warned that if concerns developed that the privatization wasn't going to be in the best interest of area residents, "You can rest assured that I'm going to be in your face."
Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, asked if the Jindal administration had a backup plan if lawmakers don't agree to close Huey P. Long.
"We would have to regroup significantly," Nichols said.
Nichols said the 75-year-old hospital has expensive maintenance needs and the state can't afford a $200 million replacement facility.
The deal was the ninth and final LSU hospital privatization deal proposed by the Jindal administration.
Jindal chose to impose most of a federal Medicaid financing reduction to the state on the LSU public hospital system and has pushed to privatize university-run hospitals and clinics. Five hospital deals have taken effect so far.
LSU officials said the Pineville deal, like the others, will improve the state's health care services for the poor and uninsured in the region and bring back services that had been eliminated at the public hospital because of budget cuts.
"We were at a situation in central Louisiana where everything had been regressive. The ability to render quality care had become quite questionable," said Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield. He added, "I'm confident what we're recommending today is going to serve our people well."