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Civil Service panel approves outsourcing of Earl K. Long Medical Center

Last Modified: Tuesday, April 02, 2013 4:31 PM

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A Gov. Bobby Jindal administration plan to outsource the health care services provided by LSU's public hospital in Baton Rouge received approval Tuesday from the state Civil Service Commission, paving the way for employee layoffs.

Earl K. Long Medical Center will be closed later this month, and most of its services for the poor and uninsured will be transferred to a private Baton Rouge hospital under the privatization contract backed in a 4-2 commission vote.

The LSU-run public hospital's 777 employees will be laid off and can reapply for their jobs with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.

"I don't know what a reasonable option would be other than what you proposed," commission member Lee Griffin told LSU and Jindal administration officials. "The money's not there to run the hospital the way it needs to be run."

Civil Service Commission approval came despite complaints that Jindal's administration was moving too quickly to close Earl K. Long, with too little data to support its savings estimates and lacking important federal approvals.

"We should not have to defend our existence. I think they should have to defend our closure," said Peggy Stemmans, the blood bank supervisor at Earl K. Long.

In the coming months, the commission also will be asked to approve other LSU privatization arrangements, and Tuesday's hearing often veered into complaints about Jindal's overall effort to move the university system out of the public hospital business.

Rene Torregrossa, a medical technologist who worked at Earl K. Long for 23 years, said the outsourcing was tied to Jindal's political ambitions, rather than the best safety net care for the poor.

"It's a travesty that we can allow politics to pull the plug on our historic hospital system," she said.

Jindal is pushing to turn over management of nearly all LSU public hospitals and clinics around the state to private hospital operators, as a way to save money after a drop in Louisiana's federal Medicaid financing.

Few agreements have been completed so far.

As part of the privatization effort, the administration sought to speed up the closure of Earl K. Long, which had been decided in a 2010 agreement and intended for later this year as a way to avoid building a new public hospital to replace EKL's deteriorating facility.

Michael Kaiser, interim CEO of the LSU Health Care Services Division, said the shift of services from the university-run public hospital to Our Lady of the Lake will preserve quality care for the uninsured and graduate medical training programs.

"I believe we built in the protections we need," Kaiser said.

Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, represents the north Baton Rouge district that includes the Earl K. Long hospital. She said decisions about care for pregnant women and prisoners remain unsettled.

She also said federal regulators haven't approved all the financing pieces of the contractual arrangement between the state and Our Lady of the Lake, which uses federal funding to help cover the costs of indigent care.

"I believe that there are some key components still missing," Barrow said.

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