Last Modified: Friday, August 03, 2012 6:11 PM
That collective sigh you heard last week may have come from the thousands of Southwest Louisiana residents who depend on Walter O. Moss Regional Medical Center for their health-care needs.
State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, reported after a closed-door briefing by officials from LSU, who oversee the state’s charity hospital system, there would be no major cuts in services. Other area legislators also heard an assessment of the situation at Moss.
So there’s a reprieve, albeit not from the governor. But here’s the question that begs for an answer: for how long?
Congress has forced Gov. Bobby Jindal to address what he curiously side-stepped in his first four years of office — the reformation of the state’s antiquated charity hospital system. Jindal earned his first stripes in Louisiana government as a 24-year-old wunderkind who was appointed by Gov. Mike Foster as secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals.
If anyone understands the archaic and monolithic charity hospital system, it should be Jindal. That his administration, now into its fifth year, is just getting around to addressing the system can politely be described as disappointing.
When Congress announced last month that it was cutting Medicaid funding for the state, it left a $859 million shortfall in Louisiana’s health care budget.
The biggest part of that cut — $329 million — was absorbed by the LSU-run charity hospitals. According to political columnist John Maginnis, LSU was able to cover 80 percent of those cuts by using one-time money it had earmarked for buying equipment and recruiting doctors to plug the financial holes.
At Moss, it will mean a reduction of inpatient beds from 15 or 16 to 10 and ‘‘some minimal staff reductions,’’ according to Johns.
Spared for the moment is Moss’ outpatient services, which annually handle 120,000 day visits — an average of nearly 330 per day.
‘‘Our greatest fear,’’ Johns told the American Press, ‘‘was that they were going to cut that.’’
So the crisis has been averted for the moment.
What the future holds may be a different matter. Some fiscal hawks in the Legislature said after their regular session concluded that the 2012-13 budget had the makings of a house of cards and predicted mid-year cuts.
A group of fiscal conservatives headed by state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, hopes to find hundreds of millions of dollars in waste and fraud. At the same time, a committee that lists Johns and Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, among its membership will look at hundreds of millions more in corporate tax exemptions that aren’t worth to the state what they touted to deliver — and hope it can get Jindal to act on them. If not, the wolves will be back on these hospitals’ doorstep next summer.
What can’t be lost in this financial haggling is that 750,000 Louisiana residents depend on the LSU-run charity hospital system to treat their health care needs. According to the Louisiana Budget Project, during the 2010-11 budget year, LSU’s hospitals and clinics managed 64,500 admissions, nearly 1.6 million outpatient visits, and more than 400,000 emergency room encounters on an overall budget of $1.37 billion.
Private hospitals have offered and may be able to take up some of the slack, but they likely will have to do so with reduced Medicaid payments.
Yes, Louisiana’s charity hospital system has long been overdue for a radical makeover, but it must be done with the Hippocratic Corpus in mind: Do no harm.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.