Jefferson council may vote on hospitals in January _lowres

Advocate file photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- West Jefferson Medical Center.

The fight over the future management of Jefferson Parish’s two public hospitals seems poised to heat up in January, with a vote scheduled for the first Parish Council meeting of the new year.

Councilman Elton Lagasse, who will take the reins as council chairman next week, has put a resolution on the Jan. 15 agenda that would select a company to run East Jefferson General Hospital and West Jefferson Medical Center for the next 30 years.

The council has been debating the hospital issue for months, with most of the debate focused on whether to choose Louisiana Children’s Medical Center to run both hospitals or to split the centers between Children’s and HCA.

Lagasse’s resolution appears to be structured to allow the hospitals’ boards to begin negotiating with either or both of the companies or with Ochnser Health System, which also was a finalist in a selection process that has gone on for more than a year.

Lagasse, who has publicly supported leasing both hospitals to Children’s, could not be reached for comment this week, and his resolution leaves many questions open.

For one thing, it’s not clear whether the companies being considered — which submitted plans to run both hospitals — will have proposals to run the individual hospitals ready by the next council meeting, though the possibility of a split has been discussed for months.

It also remains unclear whether the council might, as suggested by Inspector General David McClintock, seek to open negotiations with multiple companies simultaneously even if the end goal is to choose a single operator.

Outgoing Council Chairman Chris Roberts has proposed bringing in an outside auditor to review the financial aspects of each proposal, but that process has not started and would likely not be complete by the time Lagasse’s resolution comes up for a vote.

The two hospitals’ boards deadlocked on a recommendation over the summer, with the east bank hospital’s board favoring HCA while the West Bank board recommended Children’s.

In the wake of those recommendations, Roberts and Lagasse came out in support of leasing both hospitals to Children’s. Council members Ben Zahn, Paul Johnston and Cynthia Lee-Sheng have favored allowing each hospital to be leased to its preferred company.

All three companies have said they would submit proposals for the hospitals separately, though officials with Children’s have warned that would not be an ideal outcome for the parish.

In an email Monday to Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee, Zahn asked her to contact each of the companies and determine how a split would affect their proposals. Zahn’s email was co-signed by Lee-Sheng and Johnston.

Editor’s note: This story was changed Dec. 27 to note that Parish Councilman Ben Zahn’s email to the parish attorney was co-signed by Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng and Councilman Paul Johnston.