LSU’s growing lack of trust in the nonprofit foundation it picked two years ago to run the school’s Shreveport and Monroe hospitals under a privatizaton pact prompted LSU to seek the group’s removal, a top LSU official testified Thursday in Baton Rouge.
LSU is asking state District Judge Todd Hernandez to find the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana in breach of its contract with LSU and to order BRF to withdraw as the hospitals’ manager.
The business development and research foundation opposes those requests.
Dr. Frank Opelka, LSU system executive vice president, testified in Hernandez’s courtroom that BRF has displayed a hostile attitude toward LSU, refused to work collaboratively with LSU, disrupted academics at the LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport and airs its complaints to the media despite LSU’s admonition not to do so.
“LSU has an issue of breach of trust” with BRF, Opelka said during the final day of a two-day hearing in LSU’s lawsuit against the foundation.
But Steve Skrivanos, chairman of the BRF board, testified earlier Thursday that LSU has demonstrated it is hellbent on forcing BRF’s removal despite the foundation’s best efforts to resolve the dispute.
“There was almost nothing I wasn’t willing to do to advance this partnership,” Skrivanos said. “I tried on many occasions to advance the discussions. The only thing they were interested in doing was discussing our withdrawal.”
“It’s important to BRF that we continue the good work we started,” Skrivanos added.
Hernandez took the witness testimony and attorneys’ arguments under advisement without indicating when he would issue a ruling.
The BRF contract was one of the agreements struck as Gov. Bobby Jindal moved to turn management of LSU hospitals across the state to private entities. It is also the first of the pacts to run into trouble.
Opelka, who said he orchestrated the public-private partnerships but wasn’t directly involved in the cooperative endeavor agreement with the Biomedical Research Foundation, repeatedly used the phrase “cultural dysfunction” when testifying about LSU’s troubles with BRF.
“It was hard for me to tell if they didn’t get it or they didn’t want to get it,” Opelka said.
BRF also is involved in its own federal antitrust suit against one of its competitors in north Louisiana: Willis-Knighton Health System. The foundation accuses Willis-Knighton of trying to undermine LSU’s hospital privatization deal.