Clinic battle continues at council meeting

Published 12:31 pm Thursday, August 28, 2014

By a 6-1 vote Monday night, the Washington Parish Council adopted an amended resolution to allow St. Tammany Parish Hospital to operate Family Medical Clinic in Franklinton, ending, at least temporarily, the hospital’s dispute with Riverside Medical Center.

The new resolution grants St. Tammany Parish Hospital operating rights to the clinic for the next five years.

During a July 7 meeting, the council voted to keep Family Medical Clinic operating as part of St. Tammany Parish Hospital for the next 20 years. The clinic is located on Riverside Drive next to Riverside Medical Center. The clinic has 16 full-time employees and had almost 18,000 office visits last year.

A stipulation of the amended resolution said the five-year extension was subject to approval by resolutions by the Boards of Commissioners of both Riverside Medical Center and St. Tammany Parish Hospital.

A standing-room-only gathering caused the meeting to be moved upstairs into the courtroom. Backers of both entities offered emotional pleadings until the board voted. Board chairman Michael Fussell admonished both sides and recommended they get together immediately on particular sticking points before he voted “no” on the resolution.

According to the testimonies, revenue generated by Family Medical Clinic is the top sticking point. In comparative statistics provided by Riverside, St. Tammany generated slightly more than $7.1 million in net revenue last year compared to the $1.5 million Riverside received from St. Tammany for its services.

“We think we should get much more from St. Tammany,” Riverside Chief Financial Officer Michael Magee said.

Magee said Riverside sent a letter to St. Tammany officials requesting specific numbers, but St. Tammany declined the request.

St. Tammany attorney Bill Jones requested the five-year extension.

“When the 20-year extension was granted, it seemed to be routine,” Jones said. “It got adopted and caused great consternation. What we would like is approval to operate a primary clinic and no more. We would like more, but a five-year extension would be a minimum for us.”

Jones said if St. Tammany didn’t get approval to operate in Washington Parish, it would depart.

“If the community doesn’t want us, we don’t have a desire to be here,” Jones said. “Why be in Washington Parish? There is an overwhelming need.

“We are responsive to our council. Let’s try and figure out ways to move forward. We won’t come here without Riverside’s approval. The community needs these physicians. We’re going to continue to accomplish something. Our first goal is to keep this medical practice here. My impression is Riverside doesn’t want us. If that is the case, then tell us. We’re willing to resolve it, but it must come soon.”

In its last meeting on July 28, the council gave the two parties 30 days to try and work out their differences.

Riverside C.E.O. Kyle Magee brought up an interesting statistic.

“I don’t think anyone at Riverside Medical Clinic wants (Family Medical) to leave,” Magee said. “Forty percent of people in rural areas don’t have a hospital 30-35 miles away and die. It’s not about Riverside Medical Center and Family Medical Clinic.”

Riverside attorney Reggie Simmons suggested Riverside Medical Center would eventually have to close its doors if Riverside doesn’t receive at least some of the funds generated by the clinic.

“The 284 employees at Riverside will lose their jobs if the hospital closes,” Simmons said. “St. Tammany paid Riverside $0 over the last 10 years. This is continuing largely because of the decision people made. We need to talk about what we can do to help you, the citizens of Washington Parish. Millions of dollars leave Washington Parish to go to St. Tammany. Let’s keep Riverside open. One side cannot negotiate. It takes two sides. I’m looking for a solution to a dilemma that could kill this hospital.

“We need a cooperative agreement to be fair for both parties. If not, we go under in five years.”

Riverside C.E.O. Kyle Magee said there must be an amicable agreement between the two.

“We need an agreement that is good for all parties involved,” he said. “The current agreement is not good for all parties involved.”

Kyle Magee was asked what he was doing to prevent hospital closure as Simmons asserted.

“We’re actively recruiting doctors,” Kyle Magee said. “There is a contingency plan on the table every day. We’ll continue to recruit doctors and bring those folks in here. The recruiting process doesn’t slow.”

In other business, the Parish Council adopted a resolution authorizing the parish president to execute Community Development Block Grants to assist funding for citizens in low to moderate incomes in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.

Also, the council accepted a resolution authorizing the parish president to enter into an agreement with the state to spend grant money for damage caused by Hurricane Isaac.

The council adopted a resolution that gave additional funding from Hurricane Isaac for “urgent need” funding to Washington Parish. Franklinton and Bogalusa are eligible to receive funds.

Also given the green light was an amended resolution accepting participation in the Department of Transportation and Development Road Transfer Program.

The Council also OK’d two new bridges and one culvert constructed at Monroe’s Creek Road under the Bridge Replacement Program.