State’s hospitals threatened by Foster cuts, LHA claims

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 19, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / February 19, 2000

LULING – Community hospitals and the whole Louisiana health care system is in peril of a total breakdown, and Gov. Mike Foster is to blame.That’s according to Lynn Nicholas, president of the Louisiana Hospital Association, who made a visit at St. Charles Parish Hospital in LulingTuesday.

Nicholas said Foster’s plan to ravage the Medicaid funds to bankroll teacher pay raises is “a very serious situation.”She added: “It’s not that education isn’t important, because it is. But healthcare is important, too. You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul.”On the average, Louisiana Medicaid pays above the southern average per recipient for all services, but Medicaid payments for general hospital services are nearly $400 less per patient per year than the southern average, she noted.

This fiscal year, Nicholas continued, Foster eliminated $20 million in Medicaid payments to hospitals and made mid-year budget cuts in the state Department of Health and Hospitals, which cut $11 million for the year.

Then, mid-year cuts by DHH to attend to its own funding shortfalls slashed hospital payments by $39 million. Should this become an annual state ofaffairs from state funding, the per-year funding loss to hospitals across the state would exceed $107 million.

“I applaud the governor for trying to improve education, but not by dismantling health care,” Nicholas said. Unless the public awakens to theirperil and alerts their state representatives and senators, many community hospitals riding on the fiscal knife-edge will close, possibly forever.

Fred Martinez, administrator for St. Charles Parish Hospital for 14 yearswho has supervised millions of dollars of growth in programs and services, said the local hospital lost money in the past two years and doesn’t see the current year as any improvement.

“Hospitals don’t try to make money just to make money,” Martinez said.

“Hospitals are just trying to provide basic care.”St. Charles Parish Hospital employs 400 people. Statewide, hospitals employ100,000 people – a significant portion of the state’s workforce. “If ahospital goes under, it has a devastating ripple effect on the whole community,” Martinez added. “Some hospitals are in a serious panic,”Nicholas chimed in.

The Medicaid cuts not only affect hospitals, Nicholas continued, but also nursing homes and physicians. Integrated Health Services nursing home inLuling is already in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Martinez pointed out.

Nicholas said the LHA is calling for long-term reform on the state constitutional level to protect both education and health care. “We needmore stable and long-term funding sources,” she said.

She’s met with both state Senate and House committees on health care, but funding remains a thorny issue. “They’re reluctant to touch the homesteadexemption,” she said.

However, she remains astonished that health care wasn’t on the radar in issues of high public concern during the last statewide elections. Meanwhileacross the nation, she said, health care is the number-one priority.

Return To News Stories