Filed Under:  Health & Wellness, Regional

The best choice for East Jeff and West Jeff hospitals

21st November 2013   ·   0 Comments

When this newspaper went to press, Jefferson Parish’s Inspector General David McClintock had not yet recommended whether HCA, Children’s, or Ochsner should be awarded the management contracts for East and West Jefferson Medical Centers.

The East Jefferson Hospital board favors Hospital Corporation of America, and the West Jefferson board prefers Louisiana Children’s Medical Center. Consequently, the Jefferson Parish Council is hopelessly deadlocked, with three votes apparently in HCA’s column, and three for Children’s. In each case, both sets of Councilpersons wish for both hospitals to be awarded to one party or the other.

That was, in fairness, the original point of the joint bid process—to create an economy of scale that would spawn more collective health care investment, and financial stability for two hospitals caught in a deficit tailspin.

Jefferson Parish’s only African-American Councilman, Mark Spears, appears the swing voter in this 3-3 deadlock, and sources say he leans towards calling a public referendum. The Louisiana Weekly would usually back the idea of the voters having their say, and certainly our editors see the potential of merging the services to provide better health care.

Right now, though, the hospitals are in a race against time. East and West Jefferson Hospitals each sit no more than nine months away from effective bankruptcy.

The Jefferson Parish Council must decide on the future operations of each hospital NOW! Or, in a year, the dated, understaffed facilities will have to turn to the taxpayers to pick up the tab to keep EJ’s and WJ’s Emergency Doors open.

Internal estimates say that without an influx of $70 million in the next year, the hospitals will enter a management death-spiral, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes to correct—or worse.

Jefferson voters have not had to pay milliages for either hospital since the dawn of the 1990s. Yet, that era of independent self-sufficiency occurred when the economics of medical care were better. Now, with a new UMC downtown and an about-to-be-opened New Orleans East Hospital, more medical jobs need filling than personnel available. Without more money and resources, EJ and WJ will see their competitors swoop down and hire away staff.

Like any triage situation, this endorsement of the Editorial Board of The Louisiana Weekly is messy, yet necessary in order to save the patient. Our preference, all things being equal, would be for the Jefferson Parish Council to award HCA the management contract for both hospitals, East and West Bank.

Only HCA can call upon the vast national financial resources to arrest the outflow of capital, both patient and staff, seeping out of the hospitals’ coffers, and as the operator of Tulane Medical Center and Lakeside Hospital, it puts large Academic medical resources at the disposal of the people of Jefferson Parish.

It is also worth noting that ‘non-profit’ does not mean ‘no-profit.’ No one questions Children’s laudable work on juvenile diseases or Ochsner’s on cancer and other degenerative conditions. Just because HCA is a national company, though, does not mean it has a deficit of compassion. Just because HCA is for-profit does not mean it is—in any way—morally inferior to its competitors.

This article originally published in the November 18, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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