- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Breach-of-contract allegations against the private operator of the state-owned, safety-net hospitals in north Louisiana won’t be resolved by this week’s deadline, as negotiations continue with another health system about taking over some management duties.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration is hoping to get southeast Louisiana-based Ochsner Health System involved in the north Louisiana hospitals’ operations after repeated disputes with BRF about its oversight of the Shreveport and Monroe facilities.

“We are still talking and having some productive conversations with Ochsner about possibly taking over the management of the (Shreveport) hospital,” said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief negotiator on the state’s agreements with its safety-net hospital operators.

The Edwards administration and LSU, which previously managed the Shreveport and Monroe hospitals, sent “notice of breach” letters to BRF in September, claiming the hospital manager wasn’t following its contract terms. The move started a 45-day clock to correct problems outlined, a period ending this week.

But Dardenne said Wednesday that all the parties involved agreed to carry on with negotiations past the deadline, particularly because the conversations are continuing with Ochsner.

“We have agreed that we are going to continue to keep talking,” he said. Dardenne said he expects “we’re fast approaching a decision point” with Ochsner.

Ochsner owns, manages or is affiliated with 29 hospitals in Louisiana, according to its website. The company helps to manage the state-owned, safety-net hospital in Terrebonne Parish and its outpatient clinics.

Ochsner has tremendous respect for the work that BRF, LSU and the state are doing to stabilize healthcare delivery, medical education and research in Shreveport and Monroe through the public-private partnership,” said Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health System. “We are currently evaluating the situation and are considering the opportunity to assist LSU and University Health in both their Shreveport and Monroe locations.”

In his breach-of-contract letter, LSU System President F. King Alexander said BRF doesn’t work with LSU to ensure high-quality graduate medical education; doesn’t pay its bills on time, jeopardizing hospital operations and the financial stability of the LSU medical school in Shreveport; and doesn’t meet acceptable quality and safety standards for patient care.

LSU’s doctors and medical students work and train at the safety-net hospitals.

BRF, which manages the two hospitals as University Health System, dismissed claims that it is violating the contract terms, in a response letter sent to LSU this month. BRF and University Health leaders said their hospitals suffer from inadequate state funding, financing discrimination against north Louisiana facilities and “unreasonable” demands from LSU.

In its letter, BRF said it, too, is talking with Ochsner about joining “as a partner in a manner which will allow us to make further improvements in our funding operations.”

BRF, which started as a biomedical research foundation, is running the Monroe and Shreveport hospitals under a 2013 no-bid contract struck by former Gov. Bobby Jindal. The privatization deal has been contentious since it began, with repeated clashes over payment amounts and contract terms. BRF had never previously run a patient-care facility.

LSU tried to oust the north Louisiana hospital operator in 2015. But a state district judge threw out the lawsuit, calling that breach-of-contract filing premature.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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