Former LSU health-care executive Dr. Michael Butler returned to Louisiana this week for a special lecture on “The Value of Systemness.”

There was more than a little irony in Butler’s topic.

Butler’s address during the recent annual Health Care Effectiveness Forum in Baton Rouge came as LSU prepares to break down its system of hospitals and turn over operations and management to private hospitals around the state.

Locally, LSU’s Earl K. Long Medical Center is scheduled to close in mid-April and move patient care and medical education to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Deals are in the works for LSU hospitals in Lafayette, New Orleans, Houma and Lake Charles to be run by private nonprofit hospitals.

It will be quite a change for those who work in the LSU hospital system today — with new bosses who are unknown quantities. And so Butler tried to reassure LSU employees that they still are important in this new world.

“None of the people in this room should be afraid of change,” said Butler who is now executive vice president and chief medical officer of the Jackson Health System in Florida. “You can teach the (private) partners,” Butler said, then added “if they are open to that.”

At the same conference, the LSU System chief overseeing the redesign told LSU employees that they had a place in the new system, that the private partners wanted to hire them.

Dr. Frank Opelka said LSU has the model for what’s going to be required with the federal health revamp.

“We live in an accountable-care organization today. Our partners are just beginning to learn that,” said Opelka.

Butler said LSU employees are part of a tradition that dates to 1736, when a hospital for the poor opened in New Orleans.

“That was 277 years ago. That was before America was founded. The fact that we can have a purpose that is over 277 years old that still has relevance today is important,” Butler said.

Butler reviewed a partial list of what LSU hospitals have accomplished in recent years — things he said private hospitals are just now beginning to discover the value in.

Included on the list:

  • Implementing evidence-based guidelines on the best treatment protocols.
  • Disease management for such things as diabetes, heart failure and asthma to get patients involved in their health care to improve outcomes.
  • Electronic medical records to better coordinate patient care.
  • Telemedicine to get specialty health care into rural areas.
  • Mental health emergency rooms.

Butler said the LSU hospitals were the second in the United States to get national medical home designation. Medical homes offer patient-centered primary care.

He said none of the private partner hospitals have the outpatient clinic capacity of today’s LSU hospitals. The clinics allow better management of patient care and reduce hospitalizations because medical problems are identified and treated early.

“The irony in all the changes we are going through is we had worked out the care delivery model. We didn’t have the financial part worked out,” said Butler. “Ultimately this is more important than the financial.

“You solved the delivery problem. You are people (that) people should be coming to for answers,” Butler said.

“I hope with these new partners that will be recognized. We know how to do this,” said Butler. “Listen to us.”

Marsha Shuler covers healthcare issues for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Her email address is