St. Charles Hospital bond issue to go before voters

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Staff Reporter

HAHNVILLE — The St. Charles Council approved a measure Monday that will put an $11.5 million bond issue for St. Charles Hospital on an April 4, 2009 general election ballot.

The council also unanimously approved an $8.4 million line of credit, which the hospital requested to help cover general operating costs. St. Charles Hospital CEO Fred Martinez said the line of credit is a regular operating procedure for the parish-owned hospital because it helps the facility pay for uncompensated care expenses, which do not get reimbursed for another two years.

The council voted 8-1 in favor of putting the bond issue, which would go toward an emergency room expansion and refinancing of existing hospital bonds, before the voters. Councilwoman Carolyn Schexnaydre cast the lone vote against the measure.

Martinez told the council that the hospital would use some of the funds to construct a state-of-the-art 10,000-square-foot emergency room, more than tripling the size of the current 3,000-square-foot facility.

Martinez said the emergency room’s present design, which was constructed several decades ago, is out of date and can no longer handle the heavy traffic that the hospital sees daily. He said the emergency room for the 59-bed hospital handles six times the traffic per bed as the national average and said many patients leave before ever being seen by a doctor. Martinez said the average ER wait time is 30 minutes, but said that time often expends to over an hour and a half when the facility gets busy.

Martinez added that 90-percent of the patients admitted into the hospital come from the emergency room.

Another element of the expansion request involves a pending agreement between St. Charles Hospital and Ochsner Health System that would share resources between the facilities and allow the New Orleans based private medical facility to take over operations of the parish owned St. Charles Hospital.

Martinez said Ochsner officials have specified that an emergency room expansion is necessary for the hospital’s continued success, but told the council that the expansion plan was not a direct result of Ochsner’s interests.

If the bond issue is approved, Martinez told the council that the hospital would refinance $6.3 million in current bond debt in an effort to get a lower interest rate. He said the remaining $5.2 million would go toward the emergency room, as well as the purchase of an ambulance station on the East Bank of the Parish that the hospital currently leases on a monthly basis. He said some of the money would also go toward purchase of new ambulances as needed.

Martinez made it clear that the proposal does not involve an increase of the hospital’s tax rate of 4.99 mills. He said over time, the millage rate could go down as assessment rates in the parish improve.