- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The operator of the LSU hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe, trying to maintain its hold on the facilities, asked a judge Wednesday to throw out a university lawsuit accusing it of breach of contract.

A two-day court hearing was underway in Baton Rouge over a request from the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana to have LSU’s lawsuit dismissed.

LSU sued the research foundation, known as BRF, in September, claiming the foundation was in breach of its hospital management contract and failed to promote the hospitals’ academic mission. The foundation responded that LSU’s lawsuit was improperly filed and doesn’t establish the basic facts needed to show breach of contract.

In an assessment of the ongoing legal dispute, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office warned this week that the “dissolution of the partnership raises numerous questions and concerns regarding the financial stability of the two northern hospitals, as well as the medical academic program at LSU Health Science Center-Shreveport.”

It wasn’t clear if Judge Todd Hernandez would rule at the end of the two-day hearing Thursday on the BRF request to toss the lawsuit or wait until a later date.

The two sides delivered competing accounts of how the relationship between LSU leaders and their hospital manager deteriorated since BRF took over the two north Louisiana hospitals in October 2013 through a no-bid contract pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

David Ettinger, an attorney for BRF, said LSU “blatantly and intentionally” didn’t follow the steps required under the contract to terminate the agreement. He said LSU thwarted efforts by the research foundation, which runs the hospitals as University Health, to fix the concerns raised by university leaders and never negotiated in good faith.

“My client was eager to solve these problems,” he said.

Ettinger said BRF didn’t mismanage the hospitals or violate the terms of its contract and improved health care for the uninsured patients who rely on the facilities.

In court testimony Wednesday, Richard Cascio, CEO for University Health, described reduced wait times, expanded services and increased funding for medical education programs. He said he disagreed that the contract had been violated and said LSU officials didn’t seem sincere in talks to try to resolve the conflicts.

“They wanted us to withdraw, and they wouldn’t consider any other options,” Cascio said.

John Murrill, a lawyer representing LSU, said the hospital manager undermined the leadership of the LSU medical school in Shreveport, harmed the school’s reputation and damaged research programs.

“They have never worked collaboratively with LSU behind the scenes,” Murrill said.

He noted the chancellor of the medical school announced his resignation last week, following three other top school officials who have left since the hospital management transfer.

LSU System President F. King Alexander outlined 11 pages of complaints about hospital management in a July letter. He said BRF had not established a sustainable financial model for the hospitals, threatening the stability of both the medical school and the hospitals.

The university system formed a new nonprofit corporation to take over hospital leadership during the search for BRF’s replacement if the LSU lawsuit is successful, but hasn’t said who will be on the corporation board. The Legislative Fiscal Office said LSU hasn’t answered a list of questions about the budget implications of the management transfer.

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