La.-funded safety net hospitals could lose funding, close as part of budget cuts

La.-funded safety net hospitals could lose funding, close as part of budget cuts

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - All but two of the Louisiana's partnership hospitals that treat the uninsured could lose funding next year as part of an effort to fix the state's budget, according to the undersecretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals.

Outpatient clinics overseen by the public-private partnership hospitals could be forced to close. Some of the hospitals could be shut-down entirely as well.

"There is a serious impact ... Shuttering these hospitals in these markets will absolutely reduce access to care," Jeff Reynolds, undersecretary of the DHH, told a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

Under the current plan, the partnership hospitals in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Monroe, Alexandria, Houma, Bogalusa, and Lake Charles would lose funding. That includes Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge.

The partnership hospitals in only two cities would maintain their state funding. That includes Louisiana Children's Hospital and the Touro Infirmary in New Orleans as well as the Biomedical Research Foundation in Shreveport.

LSU's two medical schools are located in those cities, and they as a result have the largest medical student populations in the state.

If the hospital partnership with the state ends, the graduate medical programs at those hospitals would also close. The undersecretary said that was strongly considered when making decisions about which hospitals to preserve.

"They're in the middle of their program, in essence they're out on the street and in essence they're looking for another program to get admitted to. It would put them a year or two behind on their education if we cut it off immediately," Reynolds said.

The private-public partnerships were established as a way to care for the uninsured after the state's charity hospital system ended. In Baton Rouge, Earl K. Long Hospital was torn down.

After its closure, many in the northern part of the parish turned to the Baton Rouge General's Mid-City Hospital for emergency care, until it closed its doors last year.

That history was not lost on Rep. Edward "Ted" James, D-Baton Rouge.

"We've already had one hospital close, we've had an emergency room shut down," James said.

With outpatient clinics and the trauma center at risk at Our Lady of the Lake, he told the committee that the patients should take priority over medical students.

"I don't want to see any community go through what we're going through in Baton Rouge with lack of access to care, but I certainly hope we consider the number of Medicaid patients that are serviced as a priority," he said.

The DHH undersecretary said he views this as an opportunity to renegotiate the private-public partnership program.

The state is currently in the process of expanding Medicaid. As a result, individuals with Medicaid cards could go to facilities other than the partnership hospitals. However, that plan also has problems.

"If they can't get into a doctor's office, unfortunately then they're sort of stuck," he told the subcommittee.

The cuts are part of an effort to fill the $750 million gap in the state's fiscal year 2016-2017 budget. As it stands, the Edwards administration is asking that the DHH take a 10 percent cut.

These cut plan is not final, and can be modified.

Our Lady of the Lake released the following statement in response to the proposed cut to funding:

The State is working to solve a large budget shortfall, however the State must avoid going back to the broken healthcare system of the past. The State's termination of Our Lady of the Lake's agreement would eliminate access to healthcare at the very time Medicaid expansion needs the services. Physician training would be lost and potentially never recover. Lack of access would be felt by everyone.

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