Parish hears plan to combine hospitals

Published 8:13 am Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Washington Parish Council got somewhat of a surprise Monday, when Brent King, the chairman of the board of commissioners for Riverside Medical Center, told the board that the search for a CEO for Riverside is over.

The position will be filled by someone picked by Our Lady of the Angels.

OLA is Bogalusa’s hospital and it is a public/private partner hospital. Former Riverside CEO Dr. Kyle Magee stepped away in March, and since then, King and the board of Riverside have been seeking a new leader.
However, several weeks ago, OLA leadership began talks with Riverside leadership about a partnership.

Rene Ragas, CEO of Our Lady of the Angels, said in an interview after Monday’s meeting that so far there is no contract between the two hospitals.

“We’ve entered into an intent to contract for management services, for which we would provide an administrator,” Ragas said.

He added that the agreement was not inspired by potential cuts to state-funded hospitals like OLA.

Should the hospitals enter into a contract, then OLA administrators would hire a CEO for Riverside.

Ragas said the ideal candidate would have a good working knowledge of Louisiana health policy and culture.

“We’re looking for someone with executive experience, preferably somebody who has experience in Louisiana and more specifically understands our health system and our culture and goals and objectives,” Ragas said.

Ragas said the two sides could enter into an official contract within weeks, and in as little as two months there could be a new CEO at Riverside.

Ragas said he doubted patients will notice any difference in service at first.

“I do not think that on a day-to-day basis that the patients will see any difference initially,” Ragas said. “However, we will be assessing the entire operation and looking for opportunities to improve on every area of operation from quality to care to access to services.”

In addition, King hinted to the parish council that there could be some staffing shakeups with OLA at the helm, as he is anticipating the new CEO to make the hospital “more efficient” if possible.

However, King said combining the two hospitals will be a “win” for the parish.

“The best thing for growth and the best thing for Washington Parish is to combine the hospitals,” King said.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea and I look forward to having Our Lady of the Angels on this side of the parish as well,” said Council President Pete Thomas.

In other news, the parish board got some good news Monday evening from their auditor.

Wilson Lagraize delivered the parish’s annual audit, and he said it was a clean opinion, which is good. The audit covers the 2015 budget.

Lagraize said he found one small issue, but it was resolved.

“The finances are in good shape compared with prior years,” he said.

Lagraize said the fund balance has increased by $1.5 million and he called that “really significant.”

The entire fund balance is now $10,933,628. The unrestricted fund balance for the general fund is $648,431, and Lagraize said this should be considered a big improvement for the parish.

“In 2012, the fund balance was $92,” he said. “The parish was on the verge of a catastrophic financial outcome.”

Lagraize said the parish cut back employee benefits and staff positions to raise that balance to nearly $650,000.

In addition, he said the criminal court, which in years past has run deficits, is now running without a deficit.

Lagraize said the biggest hurdle facing the parish is the poverty here.

“Washington Parish is a poor parish,” he said. “You’ve got a tough job providing a lot of services for people in Washington Parish and not a lot of funding.”

Wayne Kuhn, the attorney for the parish council, said the board and the public should be proud of the parish administration.

“This is a major accomplishment for any public body,” said Kuhn, who is also the attorney for the parish school system. “They made an ‘A’ on their work. It doesn’t mean you have a lot of money, but it means it’s being well cared for and you know where it’s being spent.”

Finally, parish President Ned Thomas recognized Bruce Sampson, the founder behind the Believe Summer Camp, an annual performing arts camp in Bogalusa.
The camp is running this week and its capstone performance will be Friday evening at Bogalusa High School.

Thompson also reminded everyone that parish offices will be closed Monday for the July 4 holiday, and this includes the landfill.

The next parish meeting will be Monday, July 11, at 6 p.m.