Hospital workers protest third-party ownership

Feb 10th, 2014 | By | Category: Top Story

Several St. Bernard Parish Hospital employees appeared in the Council Chambers Tuesday night to voice their concerns over their job security and the state of the hospital.

On the agenda Tuesday night was an ordinance asking the Hospital Service District (HSD) “to submit a list of operational negative impact items if the hospital were managed by a large established regional healthcare provider.” The employees feared that if the hospital were run by a third-party provider, they would lose their jobs.

The employees also took the opportunity to speak in favor of the one-year millage increase on the ballot for a special election in April. The 30-mill tax would provide $9 million for the hospital to acquire specialists, hospitalists, and a new IT system.

Need for Specialists

Many employees who addressed the council expressed their concerns that the hospital cannot live up to its full potential until it has a full range of emergency specialists.

Hospital employee Michelle O’Brien told the story of how she almost lost her life when her throat started rapidly closing up. She was taken to St. Bernard Parish Hospital, but they did not have the throat specialist she needed. She then had to stand by for several life-threatening minutes in the ambulance while they waited for the bridge to open.

When she was finally treated at a New Orleans hospital, the doctors told her that she could have lost her life.

“If you knew you could save one member of this parish’s life, would you?” O’Brien asked the council.

Selena Deselle, another hospital employee, said that the lack of services was especially unfair to the vulnerable elderly population who waited to come back to the St. Bernard until the hospital opened.

Jobs at Stake

Roger Estopinal, a St. Bernard resident and supervisor for plant operations at the hospital, said he feared that if an outside agency was brought in, they would replace much of the staff with their own employees.

“I don’t want it to jeopardize my job or 130 other people’s jobs,” he warily told the council. “I’m just asking for [your] support for the hospital and to leave all the politics aside.

Politics

As Estiponal mentioned, another concern among hospital employees was that the council infused politics into what should have been a non-political issue.

HSD Chairman Jim DiFatta elaborated on the issue of politics. He said he was “disappointed” that the council made a resolution to explore the implications of third-party ownership.

“If you requested a meeting [with the Hospital Service District], people from the hospital wouldn’t be here tonight worried about their jobs,” he said. If the council held a meeting with the hospital, the board would have explained how they “already contemplated having a third party” years ago. According to DiFatta, they deemed that it would prevent the hospital from providing a full range of services.

Councilman Ray Lauga, who proposed the resolution, downplayed the implications of the resolution.

“All this is is a list,” Lauga said.

Lauga explained that his constituents simply wanted a list of pros and cons so that they could be better informed for the millage vote in April. He wanted the list to come directly from the HSD, so that he would not be “filtering information in any way.”

The resolution to provide a list of negative outcomes passed 4-2. Councilmen Casey Hunnicutt and Monty Montelungo submitted the two nay votes. Councilman George Cavignac was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Revenue Anticipation Notes

A resolution approving $3 million in revenue anticipation notes for the HSD passed unanimously, 6-0, at Tuesday’s meeting.

Councilmen Guy McInnis and Richie Lewis thought this resolution had much more to do with politics.

Councilman Lewis chided many of the the hospital employees for leaving before the revenue anticipation notes resolution.

“This is the more important item,” he said.

Councilman McInnis and Hospital CEO Wayne Landry debated the hospital’s financial statements for a while, but Landry said McInnis’ questions missed the point.

“I don’t think your numbers are right but I don’t want to debate with you,” said Landry.

He then explained that the resolution would simply allow the hospital to borrow money against revenue they had already generated, for which they had not yet been paid.

“When the federal government pays us, we’ll pay you back,” Landry said. “We just want the ability to clear the bond commission.”

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