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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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Lafourche Offers $1 Million to Offset Chabert Cuts

Lafourche Offers $1 Million to Offset Chabert Cuts

Lafourche Parish Government voted Tuesday night to help bail out Chabert Medical Center by offering $1 million of its taxpayer’s money to save the hospital.

But the ordinance to give the money did not pass without extensive debate.

Chabert Medical Center, along with other hospitals in the state system, is set to absorb a $14 million cut to its budget.  This comes after recent cuts by the state legislature to the state hospital system in the Louisiana budget, and after cuts by the U. S. Congress to the amount of Medicare reimbursement it will give to states.

Some government officials like Senator Norby Chabert of Houma, say the cuts will force the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, which oversees Chabert, to lay off over 200 employees and remove most of the services which Chabert provides.

On Monday, at a press conference in Houma, representatives from Terrebonne General Medical Center (TGMC) and Ochsner Health System, and from Terrebonne and Lafourche government, presented a plan to negate the $14 million problem. 

Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph announced her support with a $1 million pledge from the parish to help offset the budget cut.  And Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet said his government will commit $2 million. 

Their proposed commitments, along with that of TGMC and Ochsner, will be matched by federal money to offset the budget cut and eliminate the need for layoffs.  TGMC and Ochsner have pledged $5 million toward solving the problem.

Chabert called the measure a short-term solution, giving time for officials to find a more permanent solution involving partnerships with Ochsner and TGMC.

“But make no mistake.  Without help, there will be firings and service closures,” he said.

Principal in the arguments for helping Chabert is the fact that it is a teaching hospital, a training facility which seeds other hospitals like Ochsner.  One of the services it provides is residency training for future doctors.  The residents actually perform about 75% of the patient care given at Chabert.

Another reason to keep it a viable entity is that closures will force people to go to other hospitals’ emergency rooms for medical help. 

“Emergency rooms are slower than molasses now.  With additional loading at other hospitals, it will make emergency care even slower,” said Councilman Phillip Gouaux at the Tuesday council meeting.

President Randolph said that the commitment from various groups and the discussions “have made her more passionate about saving the hospital.  Closure could mean life or death to people who would have to travel longer distances for medical attention,” she said.

Randolph also noted that a recent giveback of $1 million from the parish’s Home Mortgage Authority Board would essentially be used to pay for Chabert. 

“It is almost a sign from God,” she said.

Some of Tuesday’s discussion centered on how many Lafourche residents use Chabert.  Statistics show that year-to-date over 43,000 out-patient visits have been made by Lafourche residents, and over 800 in-patient services went to residents of this parish as well.

Said Councilman Lindel Toups,  “$1 million is a drop in the bucket if it saves one life.”

But opponents of Lafourche giving the $1 million to DHH included Councilman Jerry Lafont who said that his constituents are not in favor of the move.

“More than 40 of my friends and constituents told me ‘Don’t support it’”, said Lafont.

Lafont also argued that the premise, that if Chabert closes, the poor will have nowhere to go, is bogus.  “People who are poor can get Medicare and go anywhere they want,” he said.

Councilman Aaron Caillouet was also vocal in his dissent, calling Jindal’s budget an “irrational” one. 

“There is no leadership involved in cutting across the board.  Where’s the leadership in Baton Rouge?  We will have the impact of these cuts, but it’s not our responsibility,” he said.

Caillouet noted other recent cuts within the parish, such as with the School Board and with Nicholls State University.  Those cuts, he said, were endured without the help of local government.

Caillouet summed up by stating that he doesn’t think the $1 million gift is something “the taxpayers of Lafourche want to do.”

The vote on the amendment was 6-2 with Caillouet and Lafont dissenting.  John Arnold was absent.

The arrangements between all parties, to fund the shortfall, will be signed as a “Memorandum Of Understanding” in which areas of responsibility, payment milestones, and who will ultimately run Chabert will be defined in detail. 

The final agreement must be approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors and, eventually, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.