Governor vows to protect health department during budget negotiations

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards held a news conference Wednesday morning to address the potential cuts to hospitals across the state.

"The truth is, it should not be difficult," he said, in reference to the state's budget woes.

But it has been difficult. After a special session in February and the regular session, lawmakers still haven't solved the state's budget shortfall. The House passed a budget earlier this year with massive cuts to the Department of Health and Hospitals, which would close many facilities across the state and the state's two medical schools.

"Now's the time, I think, as we're all looking over that cliff, to make sure our voice is heard," said Scott Wester, CEO of Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge. "To make sure we put a little reality in what's going on downstairs."

During the news conference Wednesday morning, hospital employees came to show their support. Many of them were from the central part of the state, where a small number of hospitals serve a large population of people.

"If you go east or west, there's not another hospital of the caliber of our size, and you can go two hours south or two hours north and find the next available hospital," said Nancy Hellyer, CEO of the Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital System.

"We're seeing 200,000 patients a year," said Cynthia Roberts, a nurse practitioner from Alexandria. "Without the services that we provide, what other options do we have?"

Gov. Edwards emphasized his support for the Department of Health, promising to protect healthcare from massive cuts.

"We can literally cut the tax burden of the State of Louisiana from this year to next by $400 million and still fund all of our partner hospitals without a cut," he said.

Lawmakers must solve the budget problem by Monday, June 4, less than two weeks away, when the special session officially ends.

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