Contract approved for LCMC Health to operate West Jefferson Medical Center _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER -- West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014.

A consulting firm has sided with Jefferson Parish in a two-year, $4.5 million dispute with hospital corporation LCMC over the lease of parish-owned West Jefferson Medical Center to the firm, according to Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni's office.

LCMC sought a nearly $4.7 million payment as part of the deal, arguing that West Jefferson's expenses were greater than anticipated when the deal was signed and that its receivables were lower than expected.

The parish countered that the final payment should be closer to $150,000.

CohnReznick, a business consulting firm, was brought in to arbitrate the dispute after earlier efforts, including a forensic audit by the accounting firm Ernst & Young, failed to bring the two sides together.

CohnReznick concluded that the parish owed LCMC $157,829, not the $4.7 million that LCMC sought.

The resolution of the dispute should bring closer a final handover of the hospital, which was leased to LCMC two years ago in a 45-year deal. LCMC took over operating the hospital late that year, but the two sides have clashed repeatedly over finances.

A highly anticipated audit report noted last summer that some balances were off by millions of dollars but found no evidence of wrongdoing.

But LCMC officials were not satisfied and accused the parish of negotiating in bad faith. Parish officials fought back, and CohnReznick was hired to mediate the dispute.

“I realize this process has been exhaustive, but we have a fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers to protect their dollars and manage negotiations with the intent to protect Jefferson Parish," Yenni said. He also thanked LCMC leaders for their patience during the process.

Parish Councilman Paul Johnston, whose district contains the hospital, also praised the process and said he thought the settlement was "fair and just to the parties involved and to the people of Jefferson."

Johnston also praised the various outside parties involved in the lengthy negotiations, including hospital consultant Joshua Nemzoff, Ernst & Young and CohnReznick.

"This should be the end," he said, though he refused to speculate on when a final handover of the hospital would take place.

In a statement Tuesday, an LCMC spokesman said the decision brought the deal closer to closing and that the company looks forward to providing quality care on the West Bank.

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.