St. Tammany takes a step forward for SELH

Published 12:15 pm Friday, November 9, 2012

By Debbie Glover

Pontchartrain Newspapers

In what she termed as a “good, positive first step forward,” St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister announced that she has met with the Louisiana department of Health and Hospitals to discuss the future of the hospital while on the grounds of Southeast Louisiana Hospital near Mandeville Thursday at mid-morning.

“I am very optimistic that we can keep the services here for people in the mental health community that need them,” she said. “I think it’s good news and we are one step closer to finding a solution.”

“DHH has chosen Meridian Behavioral Health as the provider with which to continue discussions about the future of the facility,” said Brister. “This is not a done deal, but a good, positive first step of many for the parish with the ultimate goal of keeping the facility open and providing mental health services in St. Tammany Parish.”

As a part of the parish’s due diligence in developing a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement, Brister has teams that are examining the buildings and grounds, determining what each building is used for, who is currently using it and the condition of the buildings. This must be completed as soon as possible because the DHH wants the agreement done as soon as possible. They have a set time frame, according to Brister.

When asked about saving jobs, she said, “Obviously providing these services will take personnel and who better to fill the positions than the people already there?”

Not just a privately insured facility, Brister said, “They will continue to accept Medicare and Medicaid, as well as private insurance, I have no doubt.”

A press release issued early Thursday morning by her office states, “As part of the negotiations, the State could enter into an agreement that allows the parish the use of the property and facilities. Simultaneously, the Parish would also enter into an agreement with Meridian for their use of the hospital, as well as any other organizations interested in relocating to the property. The success of this dialogue would enable the current outpatient services currently provided on SELH campus the opportunity to remain without disruption in program offerings.”

“Our goal is to have a signed agreement in place in two weeks,” said DHH Deputy Secretary Kathy Kliebert in the release. “A lot of hard work has gone into continuing services at SELH, without increasing the burden to the taxpayers of Louisiana during tight budget constraints.”

The release continued, “We have put in place working groups to address and work through the details that will allow the State, St. Tammany Parish and Meridian Behavorial Health to work towards signing an agreement to continue the psychiatric services our area desperately needs,” said Brister.

“Parish President Pat Brister and I have been aggressively pursuing a solution to the problem created by the state’s sudden budget cuts. This proposed agreement meets the needs of all who are involved. Taxpayers shoulder less burden, while services continue for those who need the benefits of this facility. This agreement also protects jobs in St. Tammany Parish,” noted State Senator Jack Donahue.

Some of the details not released include what will happen to current employees that have been with the facility, working for the state and garnering state retirement benefits. Suppose there is a employee with 18 years in with the state. If they sign to work at the facility with Meridian, is that retirement going to be extended, or will 18 years of retirement contributions and service to the state simply wash away?

What type of facility is going to be here? Will they offer residential treatment and care for the patients, or clients, as in the past, or will it be strictly outpatient services. These are the types of details that employees and clients want to know.

While Brister said this is only the first step, yet a positive one for the area, details were not yet available. Details may still be under negotiation as part of the overall agreement.

Meanwhile, the rallies and meetings to reverse the process are still continuing.