Monday, May 20, 2013

Hospital Deal Bad For JP Residents

You know, it seems like every time Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand gets involved in something that isn’t law enforcement-related, he believes that he knows more than the people of Jefferson Parish.

Whether it was the contrived call for service statistics he manipulated in the days and weeks prior to the Fat City Rezoning Ordinance to his current machinations to get a 20-year-old law changed so he can decide, instead of letting you decide, whether East Jefferson General Hospital (EJGH) and West Jefferson Medical Center (WJMC) should be allowed to be leased to a private company.
I can’t understand why Sheriff Normand continues to get involved in public policy. Why does he care about how far a building is set back in Fat City or, now, if the Parish’s two publicly owned hospitals are facing potential financial issues due to the impending Affordable Healthcare Act (aka ObamaCare)? What does either of those things have to do with fighting crime?

Of course, we could also ask what in the background of West Jeff’s CEO Nancy Cassagne qualifies her to make healthcare administrative decisions too. Before landing at West Jeff, Cassagne was the Chief Administrative Assistant to now incarcerated former Parish President Aaron Broussard and prior to that she was the Parish’s Finance Director. An accountant by trade, Cassagne had no hospital administrative experience prior to her being drafted to become CEO at WJMC.
Did I mention that Cassagne is the sister-in-law of disgraced former Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson?

In addition to her lack of hospital administrative experience, Cassagne’s salary of $400k/year, is equally obscene.
In fact, Cassagne earns more than the Parish President AND the Sheriff combined, a point that I’m sure grates on Normand’s nerves, and his ego.

So, now we have the Sheriff (who also happens to be the Chairman of the EJGH Board) and the CEO of WJMC teaming up and pulling a Mike Yenni and seeking public support for their grand plan to lease (ie., giveaway) two of Jefferson Parish’s prime assets.
What Normand and Cassagne aren’t telling you is, just like Kenner Mayor Yenni who held public meetings AFTER he took several steps in his plan to pass a the largest debt program in Kenner’s history without a voter referendum, they really don’t care what you think. It’s a done deal.

House Bill 383, authored by Metairie State Rep. Joe Lopinto, which takes away your right to approve a lease of the hospitals, sailed through the House and is now waiting on the Senate.
In the Senate, the bill is being championed by Senators John Alario (West Bank) and Danny Martiny (East Bank). Martiny is a long-time ally of Normand.

I don’t think it will have a problem being approved by the Senate.
Our esteemed elected officials in Jefferson Parish all contend that, if there was a public vote, it would be tainted by outside interests that might want in on the deal.

The reality is, they don’t want you to vote on it because they realize that a public vote wouldn’t be in their favor. If you can’t win, change the rules, right Sheriff Normand?
Now, some of you may be saying to yourselves, “Governor Jindal is privatizing LSU’s hospitals. Isn’t this the same thing?”

While the concept is the same, the rest of the story is completely different.
The LSU Charity Hospital System relies on Medicare and Medicaid payments. Their percentage of private insured patients is in the single digits.

EJGH and WJMC also have a large amount of Medicare and Medicaid patients, but the number is between 60-70%. Medicare and Medicaid admittedly pay less than private insurance but, they still pay. It’s not like either hospital is sending out collection agents for Uncle Sam.
For the privatization of LSU’s Charity Hospital System, Governor Jindal and his staff estimated that it would cost the state (you) $626 Million in severance, vacation and other personnel costs, and vendor contracts. That’s $626 Million to privatize 8 of the 10 hospitals in the system.

Before a legislative committee, the Governor’s staff said they kind of underestimated the cost a little. It seems that the cost for privatizing just 3 of the 8 proposed hospitals will cost taxpayers $589 Million or 94% of what was budgeted.
How much will it cost Jefferson Parish taxpayers to privatize our two hospitals? Normand and Cassagne won’t tell you that but they will tell you that EJGH “lost” $11 Million last year and WJMC "lost" about $4 Million.

Realistically, those losses are a drop in the bucket. WJMC alone has a $16-18 Million capital projects budget and, of course, if the hospital is facing financial difficulty, Cassagne could cut her own pay - although we all know that will never happen.
So, what do JP taxpayers get for handing over these two valuable assets?

We’ll get lease payments that are supposed to be dedicated to healthcare.
Healthcare? Why dedicate the funds to healthcare if the Parish doesn’t control the operations of the hospitals? What will it spend the lease payments on and how long do you think it will take Jefferson Parish politicians to get their hands on that slush fund?

Of course, since another company will be leasing the facilities, we taxpayers will still own the equipment, the beds and the plastic bed pans.
The reality is, the lease payments will probably be spent on the same personnel costs that are driving the cost of the state’s privatization plan through the roof.

Louisiana Children’s Medical Center is rumored to be the main contender to lease both EJGH and WJMC. Children’s is also in the process of taking over the LSU Interim Public Hospital in New Orleans, along with its associated clinics and will take over the new Mid-City hospital when it is completed.
Wouldn’t it be prudent for Jefferson Parish officials to monitor the state’s attempt at privatization before diving in head first and signing a 30-year lease and giving away two primary healthcare facilities?

Of course, it might also be prudent for the Sheriff of the state’s 2nd most populous parish to spend 100% of his time focused on law enforcement but then, I also believe in term-limits (another thing Sherff Normand and I obviously disagree on).  
But how can another company come in and operate EJGH and WJMC at such a high level that they can turn around the losses, deal with the impending ObamaCare rules, and still make significant annual lease payments?

Are their hospital administrators and board members smarter or more experienced than ours?
I’ll leave that up to you to answer.

I think you already know what I think.
Of course, it really doesn’t matter to Sheriff Normand what we think – we’re just taxpayers.