Louisiana’s health department leaders asked senators Friday to restore $26 million to public health programs next year or risk shuttering safety inspections, water monitoring programs and testing for possible disease outbreaks.

Those programs were among a list of health needs outlined to the Senate Finance Committee, which is combing through the House version of the state’s $24.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and trying to find ways to generate new money to plug gaps.

Public health

The House stripped the state financing for public health from the budget proposal and reshuffled it to other health care services. When combined with lost federal match money, the cut totals more than $41 million.

The move came after Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, complained about unresponsive bureaucracy in the Office of Public Health for business wastewater system permitting.

Health officials told senators the reduction would shut down inspections for school cafeterias, day care facilities, restaurants and water systems; close the state’s public health lab; eliminate testing of public drinking systems for brain-eating amoeba; and decrease the state’s ability to respond to disasters and emergencies. About 461 jobs would be eliminated.

Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert pledged changes to the wastewater and drinking water programs, saying she was reworking oversight. But she added: “We feel very, very strongly of course that the way to address this is not through gutting the program.”

Senators seemed interested in restoring the money. Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Keithville, described the cuts as a “huge risk” to families and to the state.

Hospital privatization deals

Senators received an updated shortfall calculation for the LSU hospital privatization deals, and were told they need to come up with another $67 million in state financing for hospital managers or risk cutbacks to the hospitals that provide most of the charity care to Louisiana’s uninsured.

The shortfall, combined with federal matching money, tops $177 million for next year.

Hospital operators said that without the extra funding, they’d have to shrink specialty care and other programs. Gregory Feirn, CEO of LCMC Health, which runs the state-owned hospital in New Orleans, said his board would have “to rethink the deal” and decide whether to stay in the partnership with the state.

The hospital in New Orleans will shift services this summer from an interim facility to a larger, $1.1 billion hospital built by the state. Feirn said that without more funding, plans to increase mental health treatment and emergency room capacity at the new facility would be hindered.

Mike Michot, a former state senator representing the hospital managers, said the privatization deals were jeopardized without the additional money.

“If these (deals) fall apart, we’re going to go back to a system of rationed care,” he said.

Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, worried that the discussion would recur yearly.

LSU medical schools

Also seeking $50 million for its budget was the LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport.

Without the money, Chancellor Robert Barish said he’d have to protect core departments required for medical school accreditation but would likely have to cut other medical training programs, like emergency medicine, oral surgery, radiology, neurosurgery and orthopedics.

“Those are services that patients will need, and they’re services they’re going to need to save their lives,” Buffington said.

Mills summed up the medical school presentation: “The model is not sustainable with the revenue sources that you have coming in, and you’re on the horizon with potential accreditation issues.”