The board of LCMC Health is getting fed up with the Jefferson Parish Council and what it described as dysfunction and unfairness in the two sides’ just-started negotiations to lease West Jefferson Medical Center, according to a letter sent to council members Wednesday.
Those problems have led to attacks on LCMC’s integrity and could lead the nonprofit local hospital company, the only remaining company seeking to lease one of the parish’s two public hospitals, to pull out of the process altogether, according to the letter, which accuses some members of the council of seeking to scuttle the negotiations.
“We will not continue to participate in this process on such terms,” according to the letter, which was obtained by WWL-TV. “If a majority of the council intends to remain steadfast in opposing LCMC Health as a trusted partner to manage (West Jefferson), please make that clear.”
The letter, coming in response to reports last week that LCMC was making changes to its previous offer for the public hospital, is yet another black mark on a privatization process that for many months has been mired in controversy and division among the parish’s political leaders.
Those issues, along with months of stalemate over which company would be selected to run the hospitals, led two other firms to drop their offers to lease West Jefferson and its sister facility, East Jefferson General Hospital, earlier this year.
“As leaders of the board of trustees of LCMC Health, a well-respected and important community resource, we write to express our disappointment and frustration with the dysfunction that continues to define the process to lease West Jefferson Medical Center,” the letter begins.
LCMC runs Children’s Hospital, Touro Infirmary and the Interim LSU Hospital in New Orleans as well as other medical centers in the region.
Central to the complaints by LCMC is a dispute over whether the company is seeking to change the terms of its offer to the parish, which included $225 million in lease payments when it was approved by the Parish Council in May.
Consultants hired by the council to assist in the negotiations have said those terms changed during the first meeting to hammer out the details of the deal, resulting in a substantially lower offer, according to sources briefed on the negotiations.
LCMC has denied any significant changes were made, and it reiterated that denial in the letter.
“We ask the Parish Council to correct the record on recent false accusations, make efforts to repair the damage done to our reputation and bring an end to the unprofessional and unproductive attacks and misrepresentations,” the LCMC board members wrote.
The letter also blasted factionalism on the council.
For months, the council has been split between two factions. Three members — Elton Lagasse, Chris Roberts and Ricky Templet — have supported LCMC’s bid since the beginning of the process, as has the board of West Jefferson Medical Center.
Four other members have been skeptical of that offer or supported HCA’s rival bid, since withdrawn. Those members — Paul Johnston, Cynthia Lee-Sheng, Mark Spears and Ben Zahn — have used their one-vote majority to put a consultant seen by LCMC as overly critical of that company on the negotiating team and, in the LCMC board’s opinion, to set up the process to fail.
“We have watched in dismay since the (letter of intent) was executed as a divided Parish Council has consistently voted 4-3 to configure a process which marginalizes the voice and participation of the governing board that so faithfully served WJMC,” according to the letter. “This raises questions as to whether the goal is really to go back to the beginning and start the process anew.”
The Parish Council met in executive session for several hours Thursday to discuss the status of the negotiations and to get a report from the consultants who raised concerns about LCMC’s stance at the bargaining table. Council members did not respond to requests for comment later Thursday on that closed-door meeting or the letter from LCMC.
Two other potential partners, HCA and Ochsner Health Systems, have dropped their bids to run one or both of Jefferson Parish’s public hospitals. They largely blamed the divisiveness on the Parish Council, and its slowness in coming to a decision on the process, for their decisions to withdraw.
It is unclear how the process will proceed from here.
“We implore the Parish Council to take the necessary steps to bring order and fairness to this process,” according to the LCMC letter. “We again affirm our commitment — and our good faith — to achieving our joint goal of assuring a bright future for (West Jefferson), its employees and the people it serves.”
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.