BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Another LSU hospital privatization contract with missing financial details received approval Wednesday from the university system's Board of Supervisors, this one to turn over management of the rural Bogalusa hospital next year.
The Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, which operates four private hospitals in Louisiana, will take control Jan. 6 of LSU's Bogalusa Medical Center, a hospital that cares for the poor and uninsured and trains medical students.
"We see it as an extension of our mission," said Robert Burgess, CEO of St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales, one of the health system's community hospitals and the executive who will be in charge of Bogalusa hospital operations.
As with similar previous deals, the board signed off on the 10-year agreement without objection though financial terms weren't included in the documents and questions remained about whether certain services will be continued.
For example, a cost analysis worksheet contained blanks where dollar figures should have been, and the rent to be paid by the private hospital operator was to be defined in a "master agreement" that wasn't part of the documents.
When asked by reporters to go over the financing details, Frank Opelka, leader of the LSU hospital system, replied, "No thanks" and walked away without answering any questions.
The Franciscan health system won't be providing birth control services, and it's unclear what other women's health services the private hospital operators might discontinue at the Bogalusa hospital because of its affiliation with the Catholic Church.
"Solutions will be found. I remain very optimistic that people will be served, and there is still time for those things to be worked out," said Bobby Yarborough, chairman-elect of the LSU Board of Supervisors, when questioned about possible service cuts after the meeting.
Privatization deals have been approved for eight of LSU's 10 hospitals, as part of Gov. Bobby Jindal's push to turn over management of the facilities to private companies.
LSU board members said they were confident that the contracts will offer improved safety net care for the uninsured and continued medical student training, amid reductions in state and federal funding for the university hospitals.
"I'm very pleased with the partnerships that we're putting together around the state," said board member Rolfe McCollister of Baton Rouge. "I think that we're going to see better patient care, more efficiencies."
Opelka said the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System was giving the state a $5 million pre-payment toward its lease in the current fiscal year and will pay a $5.2 million lease fee, which Yarborough said would be made annually.
"The Bogalusa hospital is a jewel. It's so important to the people of that area," Yarborough said. "I could not think of a better partner."
The hospital's 530 employees will be laid off in January and will have to reapply for their jobs if they want to continue with the new private hospital manager.
Brad Ott, a public hospital patient and regular critic of the privatization deals, objected to approval Wednesday.
"I'm disturbed that this board once again is contemplating approving an agreement that has blanks in it, that has no financial details," he said. "I just find it insulting that you all feel that you can get away with this."
Lawmakers scheduled Thursday and Friday committee hearings to review some of the most recent hospital deals and to determine if they are on track to stay within the budget allocated for the 2013-14 fiscal year.