The Jefferson Parish Inspector General’s Office raised concerns recently over the planned lease of the public hospital in Marrero to a private operator, saying parish officials don’t have a detailed plan for spending the proceeds.
Inspector General David McClintock brought the issue up with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, which is reviewing the agreement for the parish to lease West Jefferson Medical Center to LCMC Health for 45 years in exchange for $225 million in payments and $340 million in capital improvements.
However, the Attorney General’s Office has declined to require that the parish actually draw up such a spending plan.
McClintock’s decision to bring his concerns directly to the state has perturbed at least one Parish Council member and a pair of consultants working to close the complicated deal. It didn’t help when officials learned Tuesday that the hospital deal’s tentative closing date of June 30 would be postponed by at least a few more weeks as the Attorney General’s Office continues its review.
In a letter to the council earlier this month, parish consultants Joshua Nemzoff and Clifford Stromberg complained that a representative from McClintock’s office sat through a conference call on the hospital deal on June 12 without raising any concerns, then asked the parish for a spending plan out of the blue a few days later and took the issue to the Attorney General’s Office.
In their letter, Nemzoff and Stromberg said it would be foolish to predict how the parish might want to spend money from lease payments that will extend over nearly half a century.
“Any ‘plan’ for spending over decades would not be worth the paper it is written on,” they said.
On Tuesday, McClintock said any communication he had with the AG’s Office was in response to an issue the agency had raised.
“Further, I am somewhat perplexed as to why discussion between the (Inspector’s General’s Office) acting as an oversight entity — and the Attorney General’s Office acting as a regulator — would be considered as problematic in the lease of an important and vital Jefferson Parish institution,” he said in a prepared statement.
Parish Councilman Ben Zahn nonetheless criticized McClintock in a statement Tuesday, saying the inspector general lacks the credentials necessary to contact the AG’s Office in the manner he did.
“Why on Earth would (McClintock’s) office, with absolutely ‘no experience’ in the closing of a hospital acquisition ... bypass ... the entire negotiation team?” Zahn asked.
Parish Councilman Elton Lagasse, on the other hand, said he had no problems with how McClintock handled the situation laid out in Nemzoff and Stromberg’s letter.
“(McClintock) is there for a reason,” Lagasse said. “I don’t have any problem with him questioning any expenditure the parish makes.”
The Parish Attorney’s Office, which has been working to finalize the deal with LCMC ever since its unanimous approval by the council on Feb. 23, declined comment Tuesday.
An AG’s Office spokesman said its review continues unaffected by “other matters,” while LCMC said in a statement that the lease negotiations are moving forward productively despite the lengthy period of time already consumed.