Legislature

Lawmakers welcome new deal for north Louisiana hospitals

Several lawmakers bid good riddance to the outgoing manager of the state-owned, safety-net hospitals in north Louisiana, saying Tuesday that they expected a new oversight deal to improve the facilities.

The Shreveport and Monroe hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured and help train LSU medical students will shift to new management Oct. 1, under oversight of a new company jointly controlled by LSU and Ochsner Health System.

Under the years-long, multibillion-dollar deal, that new nonprofit corporation will replace BRF, which has managed the facilities since 2013 and repeatedly clashed with LSU and state officials over back-owed debts and their effect on graduate medical education.

Shreveport Sen. Greg Tarver, a Democrat, slammed BRF as the Legislature’s joint budget committee reviewed the terms of the new contractual arrangement: “I’m happy to get rid of them more than anybody else.”

“I just can’t say how horrible they are,” Tarver said. “It’s a nightmare.”

The sentiment, less stridently, was echoed by several committee members who recounted the unpaid debts and the years of public disagreements.

Sen. Mike Walsworth, a West Monroe Republican, asked Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration and LSU officials if they had a contract with BRF to ensure “that we will not see them again.”

Tarver bristled at news that BRF executive Steve Skrivanos will have a seat on the management board of the new nonprofit corporation called Ochsner LSU Health System of North Louisiana that will run the Shreveport and Monroe hospitals.

“That was one of the conditions to complete the agreement,” Ochsner Health System President and CEO Warner Thomas told lawmakers.

The new management contract with Ochsner runs for 10 years, with two possible extensions of five years each. The deal’s price tag will grow to $294 million annually, up from $251 million earmarked for the BRF contract.

More than $80 million in debts BRF owes for services that LSU doctors provided to patients will be paid by Ochsner and by health care funds the state will pay to the joint Ochsner/LSU company. That prompted complaints BRF was given too sweet an exit deal.

BRF didn’t directly respond to the criticism, but issued a statement saying it was “delighted by the progress” in the deal between Ochsner and LSU.

“We have confidence that the new partnership will provide new growth and opportunities for our 3,200 employees, as well as the patients and physicians in north Louisiana, and that improvements initiated over the past five years will continue into the future,” BRF said.

Lawmakers didn’t have a vote on the new contract arrangement, which was brokered by Edwards’ administration.

G.E. Ghali, chancellor of the LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, called the deal between the university system and Ochsner “the best partnership that could possibly be put together in the entire state of Louisiana.”

Through a series of no-bid contracts, former Gov. Bobby Jindal privatized nine LSU-run charity hospitals and clinics, starting in 2013. Most of the deals turned over the facilities to other hospital operators. But BRF, a biomedical research foundation, had never previously run a patient-care facility.

Southeast Louisiana-based Ochsner owns, manages or is affiliated with more than two dozen hospitals in Louisiana. The company helps to manage the safety-net hospital in Terrebonne Parish.

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