A health care provider said the well-being of thousands of impoverished patients could be at risk after the Jefferson Parish Council voted Wednesday to end leases letting the medical group operate clinics in a pair of parish-owned buildings, one on each side of the Mississippi River.
Officials with the nonprofit Jefferson Community Health Care Centers said they have not received any clear explanation of why they will be forced to leave their locations at 1855 Ames Blvd. in Marrero and 11312 Jefferson Highway in River Ridge.
JCHCC CEO Shondra Williams said the only reason she can see is that Councilman Mark Spears, whose district includes both sites, wants the buildings available for other purposes.
Spears declined multiple times to comment on the matter after Wednesday’s votes.
About 15,000 mostly indigent patients have been making 40,000 visits annually to JCHCC’s four locations in Jefferson, two of which are not owned by the parish, Williams said.
Financed in part with state and federal grants but not with parish dollars, JCHCC offers everything from primary, specialized and dental care to behavioral health services and HIV testing, often to patients who don’t have steady jobs or don’t speak English, Williams said.
Dr. Jeremy Dumas said it is not uncommon for the clinics to stay open in the evening because that’s the only time many patients are free to visit them.
Williams said the Ames Boulevard clinic annually treats about 8,000 people over 24,000 visits while employing 60 people. She described it as “a base of funding” that has kept the lights on at the organization’s clinics on Jefferson Highway, in Avondale and in Lafitte, and she said her group has invested a significant amount of money in upgrading the Marrero facility to patients’ benefit.
However, Williams said, JCHCC was notified April 14 that its 10-year lease with the parish for the Marrero site would not be extended beyond its July 31 expiration date, though Spears proposed to let the clinic stay on a month-to-month basis.
Spears’ proposal was initially scheduled for consideration at the council’s April 20 meeting, but it was deferred until Wednesday.
Williams, Dumas and a large group of JCHCC staffers said putting the Marrero clinic on a month-to-month lease would rob its patients and their caretakers of a crucial sense of stability.
“It’ll be hard for patients to come if, in 30 days or six months, they don’t know if you’ll still be around,” Dumas said. “They need to have a level of trust that ... we are there, within walking distance.”
Spears said contracts and leases that can be canceled on 30 days’ notice are common between parish government and entities with which it conducts business. The agreements are drawn up that way out of “convenience,” he said.
JCHCC supporters urged Spears and the rest of the council not to regard them as “business as usual,” given their mission. But their pleas went unheeded.
The council unanimously approved Spears’ proposal to end JCHCC’s lease for the Ames Boulevard location as of Aug. 1, and then he pulled from the agenda a measure that would have put the organization on a month-to-month arrangement.
The council then unanimously approved a Spears motion to terminate a month-to-month lease that JCHCC has had at its River Ridge clinic, which treats about 3,000 patients. That motion was not on the agenda before the meeting.
Those votes came well after the discussion involving JCHCC had concluded, and its supporters were no longer in the council chamber. Williams said she was blindsided by the actions regarding both locations when she was informed of them later.
She said the actions had not been discussed when she spoke with Spears before the meeting.