Ragas: Budget crisis could cut over 50% of hospital’s funding

Published 7:00 am Friday, April 15, 2016

On Tuesday, state lawmakers got an update from Gov. John Bel Edwards regarding the budget for the next fiscal year.

It was not good news.

Edwards spoke before the House Appropriations Committee, and he repeated the possibility that the Bogalusa hospital could face serious budget cuts.

The state will face a $750 million hole next fiscal year, and Edwards is proposing deep cuts to scholarship and medical funding to make up the difference, unless state lawmakers agree to tax increases in a special session that will likely follow the regular session.

Rene Ragas, the CEO of Our Lady of the Angels Hospital, said if new revenue sources aren’t opened up, cuts to Bogalusa’s hospital could be deep.

“Fifty-seven percent of our overall hospital funding would be cut in a worst-case scenario,” Ragas said. “We hope and don’t think that will ultimately happen, but that is how much of our funding is at stake in this latest round of budgeting.”

Because there has been no official decision yet from Baton Rouge regarding funding, Ragas doesn’t know what if anything will be cut, but any cuts could hurt the community.

“Well, with a loss of that magnitude, care would have to be rationed,” he said. “And many critical services we would not be able to afford to offer.”

Our Lady of the Angels is a rural hospital, and Ragas pointed out that many area residents already have to drive quite a distance to get service there. Many others don’t have transportation at all.

“One in 10 people do not even have transportation to get here and access the critical services that we offer,” he said.

Ragas added that even people who have vehicles may have to drive to St. Tammany Parish to access care. This could potentially affect thousands of residents.

“When you think about what we will do this year, we’re going to admit just over 3,000 inpatients, patients that stay over 24 hours, we’re going to do a touch under 25,000 emergency room visits, we’re going to deliver over 200 babies and in our outpatient clinics, we’re going to see over 1,000 patients,” he said.

Ragas said he has spoken with the leaders at Riverside Hospital in Franklinton about sharing services, and he is eager to partner whereever it’s possible.

“What our thought is on healthcare in Washington Parish is that we want to work with the other healthcare providers, including Riverside in Franklinton to care for the people in Washington Parish,” he said. “We should be doing that together as one health care community, and any way we can accomplish that, we want to do that. That’s no secret.”

But Ragas noted that the current budget questions mean future partnerships are on hold until the state’s budget gets hammered out later this year.

“I think that with the unstable funding conversation in the capital, that it hampers us from making a lot of decisions including a potential relationship with Riverside until we have clarity on our funding,” he said.

The current session wraps up in early June, and it is likely a special session will kick off immediately following.

Ragas said he has confidence that the Washington Parish delegation, State Rep. Malinda White and State Sen. Beth Mizell, will work hard to secure funding for Our Lady of the Angels, even if it means supporting tax hikes.

“We are hopeful they are going to call a special session and our delegation will support any new revenue measures to fund the rest of the public-private partners, including Bogalusa,” Ragas said. “That’s important that our delegation knows that in a special session that we support and they support any new revenue measures that are brought forth.”

This week, White met with Edwards to discuss the hospital’s future, and the governor praised White’s willingness to look at all solutions.

“No one is fighting harder for the people of District 75 and the surrounding areas than Rep. Malinda White,” Edwards said. “Unlike some members of the area’s delegation, she has set aside partisan labels to put the needs of her constituents and Louisiana first. She is doing all she can to protect the services for the people she represents and has been a true leader in the legislature on the difficult task of resolving the largest budget shortfall in Louisiana history.”

While said she would continue to fight for full funding.

“I will continue fighting tooth and nail for the people of my district,” White said. “For me, that means finding the right balance of spending cuts and additional revenue to save our hospitals, technical colleges, parks, and prisons. The people of my district cannot afford to lose a hospital, and they are demanding that we work in a bipartisan way to get the job done right. It is a life or death matter, and I will do all I can to save Our Lady of the Angels Hospital.”

Ragas said he encourages members of the community to speak to Mizell, White and the governor about hospital funding.

“I think that it’s important that any members of our community … that they all let their elected officials know that this hospital is important and anything they can do to support funding for our hospital is important,” he said.