Gov. Bobby Jindal received legislative permission Wednesday to shutter the LSU-run public hospital in Pineville as part of a health care privatization deal for central Louisiana.
The House voted 65-29 to give final passage to legislation authorizing the closure of the university-run Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville and the transfer of its services to two nearby private hospitals, CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital and Rapides Regional Medical Center.
The closure, expected before the budget year ends June 30, is Jindal’s ninth and final privatization deal for the state-owned hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured and that provide much of the training for Louisiana’s medical students.
Central Louisiana lawmakers disagreed over the impact of the hospital closure.
Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, said privatization will provide better patient care than relying on an outdated hospital opened in 1938 that only has 10 inpatient beds operating today.
“Unfortunately, that hospital, the plant facility has not changed much since 1938,” said Harris, who handled the legislation in the House.
He described new urgent care clinics available to patients as part of the privatization, and he said patients will have access to orthopedics, gynecology, oncology and cardiology services that hadn’t been recently offered at Huey P. Long.
“With this new deal our patients are getting much better care … in much more modern facilities,” he said.
Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, opposed the hospital closure, saying too many financing questions remain that could jeopardize care in later years. He said private hospitals need to generate a profit, and he said that will drive the state’s costs higher.
Under questioning from Johnson, Harris acknowledged he hadn’t read the privatization contract and couldn’t talk about the financing structure.
“My understanding is there’s no cap in this contract. This is like a blank check contract,” Johnson said.
Lawmakers also raised concerns about a recent federal ruling against financing plans submitted by the Jindal administration covering six of the privatization deals that turned over state-owned health care facilities to private managers.
LSU health care adviser Jerry Phillips said in committee testimony that the federal refusal won’t affect the Pineville plans because the privatization deal isn’t structured the same way as the others, and Harris repeated the statement Wednesday.
Jindal has pushed to privatize nearly all the university-run hospitals and clinics. Eight hospital deals have taken effect so far, though only one contractual arrangement in Baton Rouge has received federal approval.