Last Modified: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 7:46 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — The LSU hospital system's shrinking funding and large numbers of uninsured patients are hurdles to attracting partnerships with private health care firms to help keep the hospitals open, the head of the university system said Monday.
The university-run network of hospitals and clinics, which care for the uninsured and provide much of the state's medical training, are facing ongoing budget woes tied to a drop in federal Medicaid financing and a Jindal administration decision to levy most of the cuts on the public hospital system.
LSU System President William Jenkins wouldn't say if he expects the cuts to shutter hospitals. But he said the university will need to bring in private companies to operate some of the 10 public hospitals if the state wants to keep them all open.
"If they're open, it'll be very hard for us to be running them," Jenkins said, after a speech to the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Many of the hospitals care for large numbers of uninsured patients. But that care that comes with limited funding, and the money was recently cut by Gov. Bobby Jindal and is expected to be slashed further because of looming federal reductions.
Jenkins said that troubled funding situation creates problems in attracting private companies interested in partnering to run the university's hospitals.
"We don't bring a lot to the table at the moment, except we're going to provide the health care professionals," he said.
After the Jindal administration chose to steer much of a federal Medicaid cut to the public hospital system, LSU officials devised a stopgap financing plan that kept cuts at about $50 million in the budget year that began July 1.
But the plans were only temporary, and university leaders have been warned that the reductions are expected to continue annually. Estimates are that the gap is more than $300 million a year — a quarter of the hospital system's funding.
LSU officials are scrambling for ways to come up with additional financing, with the Jindal administration pushing for agreements with private health care firms as a way to cut the university system's costs.
If those agreements don't pan out, any hospital closures would require legislative approval.
In closed-door meetings, the university system's health care chief, Fred Cerise, suggested the state could expand its Medicaid program in 2014 as provided under the federal health care law to cover uninsured residents and drum up new dollars for the public hospitals.
Jindal, a Republican, has rejected that idea and is pushing for the repeal of the federal law.
Jenkins wouldn't say whether he supports the Medicaid expansion, instead saying only, "We've got to find a source of dollars to support those patients."
The LSU System chief said he met Monday with leaders of the Louisiana Hospital Association to talk about possible agreements that could be crafted in communities where the public hospitals are located.
Jenkins said while the university-run hospital system's patient mix can be a hindrance to attracting partnerships, private entities recognize they "have to come to the table, because otherwise, if we ever just shut down, those patients will flood those hospitals, and they can't afford it."
Louisiana Hospital Association leader John Matessino agreed, saying private and community hospital officials recognize the importance in working with LSU.
He said the private hospitals recognize that closing an LSU facility or service shifts the patients elsewhere, while also affecting the programs that are used to train the bulk of the state's doctors and other health care workers.
"We certainly don't have all the answers, but we know one thing: Whatever is done impacts all providers. We think this is our problem, too," Matessino said. "It is absolutely imperative that we work closely with LSU. It's a crisis situation for us all."
On another high-profile issue facing the LSU System, Jenkins said it would be tough for the university's governing board to merge the jobs of system president and chancellor of the flagship campus in Baton Rouge.
Jenkins is serving as both system president and chancellor in an interim role until the LSU Board of Supervisors chooses new leaders. The board is weighing whether to combine the positions.
The jobs have very different responsibilities, with the system president able to have a nontraditional business background, but the chancellor needing academic credentials and the ability to run a campus independently of the system, Jenkins said.
"For one person to be able to do both is going to be very difficult," he said. Then after describing the challenges, he added, "However, it's possible."