AMITE — The Tangipahoa Parish Council voted unanimously Monday to request budget information from North Oaks Health Systems in Hammond and Hood Memorial Hospital in Amite — an action taken in the wake of the controversy over plans by North Oaks to open a hospital pharmacy.
The council also decided to establish a committee to explore the operations of the two hospitals.
The actions came after attorney Glen Galbraith told the council it has the authority to review the budgets of the hospitals and to exercise vetoes of any budgetary items with which the council did not agree. The council has not sought or obtained copies of the budgets for the two hospitals for many years.
Galbraith was retained by the council at its June 9 meeting to study what authority the council has over the two hospitals.
In 1955, the old Tangipahoa Parish Police Jury established Hospital Service District No. 1 in the southern end of the parish. North Oaks, which grew from that beginning, has not accepted any local tax monies for more than two decades.
Hood Memorial was founded by Hospital Service District No. 2, which serves the northern end of the parish.
Galbraith said the council has the authority to review the budgets of all special service districts, such as Gravity Drainage District No. 1, sewer and lighting districts.
The attorney said the Parish Council also has the authority to create a board of commissioners to oversee the hospital districts and to appoint the chief operating officer of the hospital. The Parish Council names members of the commissioners who oversee hospital operations.
Muscarello asked Galbraith if the hospital officers could deny access to some parts of the budget. Galbraith explained that under state regulations hospitals do have the right to keep from the public some items on the budget deemed strategic marketing information. He added that the council could obtain such information but that it would have to be discussed in executive session.
He added that the Parish Council has the authority to remove a commissioner with cause and has the power to call a special meeting with the hospital commissioners. Galbraith said state law requires that the hospital commissioners meet at least three times a year.
North Oaks has come under fire after announcing it plans to establish a limited retail pharmacy to serve its employees and patients who were being discharged. A number of independent pharmacy owners have protested those plans.
Galbraith said that if the council finds that funds had been set aside for the establishment of a pharmacy, then the council could line-item that measure, thus halting plans for the pharmacy.
Galbraith said that every year the parish should ask for the budgets of all taxing districts established by the council or the old police jury over the years.
Council Chairman David Vial named Councilmen Nicky Muscarello and Harry Lavine to the hospital oversight committee and said he will appoint a third councilman to the group later.
“This is … an important issue and I ask that all council members take the time to make themselves aware of some of the issues raised tonight,” Vial said. “We will be looking for some answers to questions that many of us have had for a long time.”