Our View: LSUBMC, region will be devasted by cutbacks

Published 8:57 am Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s seemingly merciless assault on LSU’s network of public hospitals and clinics will not only affect health care in Washington Parish but may ultimately be responsible for the loss of hundreds of jobs in an area where unemployment already is a concern.

Jindal recently announced a whopping $329 million cut to the university-run health care system, essentially gutting 25 percent of the system’s funding. This latest butchery comes on top of a nearly $30 million hit announced earlier this year that resulted in the elimination of nearly 40 positions at LSU Bogalusa Medical Center, which, with approximately 600 employees, happens to be Washington Parish’s largest employer.

Jindal claims the cuts are necessitated by a change in the state’s federal Medicaid funding rate. Those changes resulted in Jindal chopping $523 million in health care funding, with the LSU system curiously being forced to absorb nearly two-thirds of the cutbacks.

Also caught up in the carnage is the shuttering of Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville, another questionable decision considering the paucity of mental health facilities in a region where many still cope with the psychological devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Jindal’s cuts sent LSU officials scrambling, with some legislators predicting not all of the hospitals or clinics will be able to survive, despite LSU’s board of Jindal-appointed minions demanding that none will be closed. Although it’s far too premature to grasp the full ramifications of the cuts, undoubtedly the damage will be felt here.

The cuts present a double-edged sword of devastation for Washington Parish. Through its hospital or family health clinic LSUBMC serves the poor, uninsured and underinsured of the area. Its presence assures those in need will receive quality health care.

Take away BMC and a doctor’s visit that is considered routine by most becomes a dream for the less fortunate.

The cuts will also further stymie LSUBMC’s growth, which was near meteoric until earlier this year. Under the guidance of CEO Kurt Scott, a family health clinic opened two years ago that is serving thousands of patients per month, the hospital’s world-renowned family medicine residency program has blossomed and plans were announced only last year for a $6 million expansion that would include the construction of a new emergency room and admitting area. Now, those plans seem in peril.

The closure of LSUBMC would also have a devastating economic impact to the parish. With the reduction of the workforce of the paper mill during the past decade, LSUBMC has become the parish’s biggest employer, a title administrators embrace with pride.

A loss of additional jobs at the facility would be challenging to replace in an economically depressed area.

LSUBMC officials understand the facility’s value to the community, whether it is through the prism of health care or economic development.

Now it’s incumbent for parish residents to make their feelings known to their lawmakers and the governor.