Two days before new Inspector General David McClintock is set to release a report on Jefferson Parish’s public hospital lease issue and before a scheduled council vote to pick a “winner” on Thursday, both Jefferson Parish Councilmen-At-Large, Chris Roberts and Elton Lagasse, have sided with Children’s Hospital.
Roberts also announced that the Council vote would be postponed.
Monday, both hospital boards remained deadlocked with East Jefferson General Hospital officials favoring HCA while West Jefferson Medical Center board members favored Children’s Hospital. Originally, the Jefferson Parish Council had stated that it preferred to have one entity lease both public hospitals.
The joint hospital board has 20 members. Children’s received 11 votes with one member absent and another abstaining.
In a written statement, Roberts and Lagasse discussed the rationale for their decision.
"LCMC (Louisiana Children’s Medical Center) is a local institution that understands the importance of making decisions based on what it right for the patient," they wrote. "They are a non-profit entity that does not answer to investors rather the community in which they serve."
What’s curious about Roberts and Lagasse is their decision to disagree with Sheriff Newell Normand, an ardent supporter of HCA, the only public, for profit entity seeking the hospitals.
Children’s absorbed the operations of the Louisiana Interim Public Hospital and Clinics in New Orleans in June from the State.
Before ascending to the At-Large positions, Roberts represented a West Bank District while Lagasse represented a split East Bank/West Bank District.
The Ben Zahn – Ochsner Connection
Continuing to push behind the scenes for an Ochsner victory, despite no support from either hospital board, is District 4 Councilman Ben Zahn. Zahn, whose district includes the Kenner Campus for Ochsner, has pushed for more time.
According to the Times-Picayune, “Zahn, citing ‘turmoil, confusion, conflicting information,’ said he wanted more time to ‘sort through what is and isn't fact’.”
Zahn’s ties to Ochsner or his reasoning for continuing the futile push, have not been explained.
Months before Zahn entered the race for Jefferson Parish Council, and while still a member of the Kenner Council, a billboard was erected near the heavily-trafficked intersection of Williams Blvd. and West Esplanade in Kenner. The billboard was for the Ochsner Kenner Hospital, approximately 2.5 miles west of the intersection.
What was curious about the billboard was the fact that it featured a smiling Ben Zahn along with his family promoting Ochsner. Despite complaints, and the fact that no one in the Zahn family had any prior modeling experience, the billboard stayed up throughout Zahn’s Jefferson Parish Council campaign, effectively providing him free advertising. Neither Ochsner or Zahn's campaign ever disclosed a value for this in-kind donation of free advertising.
In addition, the head of Ochsner’s Kenner Campus was a campaign supporter and contributor to Zahn.
Was this simply coincidence, quid pro quo for Zahn’s support of a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement that Zahn authored while on the Kenner City Council allowing another Ochsner Clinic to post a sign on a publicly-owned median, or part of a larger process to secure Zahn’s support for Ochsner in the hospital lease process?
As we now know and verified by Councilman Roberts and Sheriff Normand, the proposed lease of Jefferson Parish’s most valuable public assets has been a process that has been years in the making. Although just made public earlier this year when the Sheriff and the Council persuaded theJefferson Parish Legislative Delegation, led by State Rep. Joe Lopinto (R-Metairie) and State Senator Danny Martiny (R-Kenner), to change a decades old law that removed the right of the people of Jefferson to vote on the future of health care, this ruse upon the public has taken twists and turns.
While it pains me to no end to agree with Zahn that we all need to “sort through what is and isn’t fact”, unfortunately, when it comes to the Jefferson Parish Council, Zahn included, and Sheriff Normand, the people of Jefferson Parish continue to come out on the short end when it comes to elected officials telling the truth and actually representing the best interests of Jefferson Parish residents.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the proposed lease of our two public hospitals.