Wednesday, May 22, 2013

False Arguments, Misinformation Reign in JP Hospital Debate

“If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”
-          Saul Alinsky, “Rules For Radicals”

There was a lot of feedback to my post on Monday regarding the Jefferson Parish Hospital Privatization deal championed by JP Sheriff Newell Normand. I heard from elected officials and members of the general public who have no vested interest in the potential lease of East Jefferson General Hospital (EJ) and West Jefferson Medical Center (WJMC), other than their desire for community healthcare.
The feedback was polarized: Officials want the privatization because they contend the hospitals cannot continue to survive on their own; the public thinks they are being hoodwinked and left out of the process. Obviously, I'm on the side of the public.

Even with the Public Meetings that are emceed by Sheriff Normand and WJMC’s highly compensated CEO Nancy Cassagne, the false arguments and misinformation continue.
Yesterday, in a Baton Rouge meeting, I heard Jefferson Parish President John Young continue to evoke the standard talking points parroted at every opportunity by Normand, Cassagne and others:

-        " Even if they were combined, which they are legally not allowed to, EJ and WJMC wouldn’t be able to survive."

-       "If  there were to be a public vote on the lease of the hospitals, the losing group(s) would advertise and impact the vote to hurt the winning bidder."

-         "If we don’t do something now, the hospitals will be forced to close soon."

With all due respect to President Young, those arguments are

-          False

-          False

      -          And, False

Let’s take them in order.

The Financial Viability of the Hospitals
If EJ and WJMC were allowed to combine, that would put both hospitals in a better competitive position and allow even more resources to go toward providing a greater level of specialized care for Jefferson Parish Residents.

The two hospitals could reduce administrative costs, have additional purchasing power to lower overhead, and share more resources.
Currently, the hospitals are only allowed by law to share some minor back office functions and are also geographically protected.

So, why don’t we change those laws?
Why not take steps to combine the two and allow the hospitals to continue to serve the community while also allowing them to grow? Why not try that FIRST before signing a 30-year lease and giving away the use of two of Jefferson Parish’s prime assets and healthcare delivery systems?

To Vote Or Not To Vote, That Is The Question
While it might be true that a competitor could advertise and potentially sabotage a vote, that isn’t the issue.

You see, the public should not vote on THE lease; it should be allowed to vote on A lease.
No member of the public that I’ve spoken with wants to vote and rate whether Ochsner’s deal is better than Children’s or HCA’s. But, they do think they should have the right to vote on whether EJ and WJMC are leased at all.

The officials proposing the changing of the state law to take the public out of the equation have framed the question improperly.  EJ and WJMC are OUR HOSPITALS, not theirs and the fact that Sheriff Normand and Ms. Cassagne, who combined had no prior medical administration experience before Sheriff Normand was added to the EJ Board and Cassagne was named WJMC CEO, just muddy the waters and lead to even more scrutiny by the public of their flawed decision making.
Sheriff Normand’s tenure on the EJ Board predates his time as Sheriff. Clearly, someone who has been the EJ Board for more than 15 years should claim some responsibility for EJ’s ills.

And, Ms. Cassagne’s overly generous salary and lack of hospital experience give her ZERO credibility to make a decision that would influence the future of healthcare in Jefferson Parish.
Anytime you remove the public from having a voice in major decisions affecting the community, it’s wrong and President Young knows this. Normand and Cassagne know it too, they just don’t care.

 The Immediacy Trap
I’ve lived in Jefferson Parish for over 12 years. When I moved to JP, every time it would rain, Clearview Parkway in Elmwood, and streets across Jefferson Parish would flood. It’s automatic. If you live in JP, you know what streets to avoid if it rains.

12 years later, Elmwood still floods and every time it does or another street in JP floods, an elected official always goes on the radio or television and says, “Well, we had 2 inches of rain the first hour and the pumps aren’t designed to handle that amount of high-intensity/short-duration rain.”
If I had a Nickel for every time I heard the words, “high-intensity/short-duration rain”, well…I wouldn’t be writing a blog now would I?

My point is that the wheels of government turn incredibly slow on some issues yet, with the hospital deals the public is fed the line “If we don’t do something NOW, the hospitals will fail.”
Now they’ve added the line that “If we don’t lease the hospitals, we’ll need another property tax to support them.”

First, neither hospital is in dire financial straits. Sure, they lost money last year – I would bet that almost every hospital in America lost money last year. EJ and WJMC aren’t anomalies, they are the norm.
In addition, since I’ve lived here, the hospitals have never required additional public support.

Second, if the hospitals did require a property tax (and that is certainly also open to debate since JP Government at all levels could be cut to offset any financial loss from the hospitals), so what? We already pay millages for recreation, law enforcement, water, sewerage, education and everything else under the sun.
In their talking points, officials claim that EJ “lost” about $11 Million last year while WJMC lost about $4 Million.

When it is ever completed, if it is ever completed, the JP Council has authorized a $1 Million per year subsidy for SMG to “manage” the Jefferson Performing Arts Center. Do you mean to say that, if pushed by the public, JP Government couldn’t find $10 Million in the budget somewhere to pay for healthcare? I would personally volunteer my time to help them find items for them to cut (of course, I’m sure they don’t want my opinion).
How much could the hospitals save if they merged, shared resources and reduced costs?

Why aren’t we (the public) given those numbers so we can make an educated decision about the future of healthcare in our parish? Why are the elected officials working so hard to go around us instead of educating us? Why is our right to vote and have a say in our future being taken away from us by Sheriff Normand and a handful of legislators in Baton Rouge?
I know what Normand, Cassagne and their paid consultants think – I want to know what the options are.

From what I’ve heard, you do too.
Now, who has a Nickel - it's starting to rain.