New LSU hospital manager asks state for more money

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The research foundation running LSU’s Shreveport and Monroe hospitals under a privatization deal crafted by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is asking the state to pay for more than $120 million in hospital improvements and expansions.

The Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, or BRF, has lodged the requests with state lawmakers for consideration in the legislative session that begins in March as they craft the 2014-15 state construction budget, known as the capital outlay bill.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has described privatization deals for the LSU hospitals as a way to cut costs, including on building maintenance and construction needs. The construction work and equipment purchases sought by the research foundation for the Monroe and Shreveport hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured appeared contradictory to the governor’s comments.

“Something is a little odd about that. The main reasons that I understood that we were privatizing is because it was going to bring relief to our taxpayers,” said Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport, whose district includes one of the hospitals managed by BRF.

Jindal’s Division of Administration, which oversees state construction projects, didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to questions about whether it would support inclusion of the BRF projects in next year’s construction budget.

Construction projects on the list of requests from the Biomedical Research Foundation include $4.3 million for a ventilation and air conditioning system upgrade at the Shreveport hospital, $1.6 million for medical equipment at the Monroe hospital and $6.6 million for an elevated pedestrian path at the Shreveport hospital.

The biggest ticket projects sought include $76.5 million for a new building in Shreveport to house surgery services, an imaging center and an ophthalmology clinic and $22.3 million for a new facility in Monroe to house exam rooms, doctor’s offices and other outpatient services.

Dawn Banks, BRF’s director of grants development, said the foundation resubmitted construction project requests that had been sought by LSU when the university system was in charge of the hospitals.

“They were planned for LSU to submit back in July. We didn’t want to stop any of those when we took over in October. We wanted to keep those active if we could,” Banks said Tuesday.

Jay Meyers, a spokesman for BRF, said the foundation’s contract with the state says the Jindal administration was committing to projects that were approved before the management transfer. Since the requests had already been made by LSU, even though they weren’t approved for funding, BRF believes they fall under the grandfather clause for consideration, Meyers said. He said the projects would improve care for the poor and uninsured.

Lawmakers were skeptical about some of the proposals - and their price tags, particularly in a construction budget where funding is limited and legislators struggle to get far smaller projects financed.

Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, said the state should pay for deferred maintenance, like air conditioning and wiring upgrades, at the state-owned hospitals, and he said he’s supporting those types of items for inclusion in the state construction budget. He said those needs existed before the Biomedical Research Foundation took control of the hospitals.

But he said the private hospital operator won’t get support for $76.5 million in new outpatient services facilities.

“Forget that one. That’s not happening,” he said.

BRF assumed management of the public hospitals in October, as Jindal sought to privatize nearly all university-run hospitals and clinics. The research foundation had never run a patient care facility. The Jindal administration said that turning over hospital management to BRF will maintain medical education programs and health services for the poor and uninsured, while cutting state costs.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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