St. Tammany ending operation of medical clinic

Published 8:51 am Friday, January 30, 2015

The on again, off again battle between Riverside Medical Center and St. Tammany Parish Hospital’s Family Medical Clinic appears to be over with St. Tammany’s decision to cease clinic operations when the current agreement expires on Oct. 27.

The Clinic is located on Riverside Drive, next to Riverside Medical Center in Franklinton.

Family Medical Clinic physician Dr. Chris Foret said the decision to close shop was unfortunate but necessary because the two sides couldn’t agree on a number of issues.

“I would like to stay here. I’ve worked here for over 17 years. The clinic is a part of the community and has been here for 48 years,” Forest said. “We feel like we have the right to work for whom we choose and where we choose to work without government intervention. We feel like St. Tammany absolutely negotiated in good faith and made a good offer to Riverside Medical Center. I feel secure in saying the other physicians at the Medical Clinic share my opinion.”

In testimony from officials from both institutions during parish government meetings, revenue generated by Family Medical Clinic seemed the major sticking point. In comparative statistics provided by Riverside, St. Tammany generated slightly more than $7.1 million in net revenue in 2013, compared to the $1.5 million Riverside received from St. Tammany for its services.

“Physicians in this practice just want to work,” Forest said. “The focus has always been taking care of our patients. There is an uncertainty around here. We have approximately 20 employees with their families who want to stay but understand the ramifications of the Riverside Board of Commissioners.”

Foret said there was no winner in the rift between the health care providers.

“Everybody is absolutely the loser,” Foret said. “Nobody wins with this scenario. It’s unsettling to our patients and employees. It’s a real shame.”

A letter dated Jan. 28 to Family Medical Clinic’s patients and families reads, in part:

“We are sad to report that St. Tammany Parish Hospital must end operation of Family Medical Clinic when our current agreement expires on Oct. 27, 2015. Our mission is to deliver world-class health care to our patients, close to home, and operation of the clinic through employment of Drs. (Libeau) Berthelot, (Mark) James, (Chris) Foret and (Caroline) Battles has been a perfect example of that mission.

“All Family Medical Clinic patients should rest assured that while our ability to operate the clinic may end, our commitment to the mission will not. Each patient under our care will receive notification of their physician’s new office location as soon as possible.

“We have worked for months to secure a resolution that would enable St. Tammany Parish Hospital to continue caring for the community in Family Medical Clinic on Riverside Drive in Franklinton, as we have since 2003. While we were successful in securing a five-year extension from the Washington Parish Council, we were not able to secure an agreement with Riverside Medical Center.”

The rift between the two sides appeared to be over when Riverside Medical Center CEO Kyle Magee said during the Sept. 22, 2014, Washington Parish Council meeting that both sides had come to an “agreement in principle.” He did not release any details of the agreement.

Efforts to reach Magee for a response were unsuccessful, However Riverside did release a statement. It reads, in part:

“Like so many of you, we are saddened to learn that St. Tammany Parish Hospital has decided to stop operating Family Medical Clinic on Riverside Drive in Franklinton. The physicians of Family Medical Clinic have been a fundamental part of quality health care delivery in the Franklinton area for many years. It was the intention of Riverside to continue our relationship with the physicians of Family Medical Clinic and St. Tammany Parish Hospital. However, this is no longer possible now that STPH has ultimately decided to cease operations of its employed Family Medical Clinic.

“Since its inception in the 1960s, the public has known the hospital in Franklinton as Riverside Medical Center. While this hospital has done business as ‘Riverside Medical Center,’ its true name expresses the fact that this hospital is a political subdivision properly known as ‘Washington Parish Hospital Service District No. 1,’ just as STPH is technically named ‘St. Tammany Parish Hospital Service District No. 1.’

“This situation has taken several years to come about. Over the past dozen years, Riverside has seen decreased revenues each year, simultaneously with lower hospital admissions. The matter came to a head when the revenues generated in this hospital continually declined to the point where the viability of RMC was in doubt. As a result of this decline, it became necessary to assess mileages to the taxpayers of Washington Parish to partially offset the losses of several million dollars per year flowing out of this hospital district into St. Tammany Parish.”

The statement went on to say there was never a contract of any kind with St. Tammany, but only a resolution, which permitted STPH to do business in Washington Parish.

During a July 7 meeting, the Parish Council voted to keep Family Medical Clinic operating as part of St. Tammany Parish Hospital for the next 20 years, but Riverside’s operators objected to that agreement, and it was rescinded.

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.

That July 7 meeting had a passionate standing-room-only crowd. The large number in attendance caused the meeting to be moved upstairs into the courtroom. Backers of both entities offered emotional pleadings until the council voted. Council Chairman Michael Fussell admonished both sides and recommended they get together immediately on particular sticking points before he issued a “no” vote on the resolution. His vote was the lone dissenting vote from the council.

Efforts to reach Fussell for comment were unsuccessful.