Jefferson says it will continue hospital talks

The Associated PressJuly 11, 2014 

— Jefferson Parish is pushing on with negotiations to lease one of its public hospitals even as the last remaining bidder complains that factionalism is undermining the effort.

The Parish Council met in closed session for nearly three hours Thursday to discuss efforts to lease West Jefferson Medical Center.

The lone bidder for the lease is LCMC Health, which runs Children's Hospital, Touro Infirmary and the Interim LSU Hospital in New Orleans.

In recent days, consultants hired by the council have said LCMC Health changed the terms of its $225 million bid to lease West Jefferson. The hospital denies that, sending a letter asking the council to retract "false accusations." The letter, obtained by WWL-TV (http://bit.ly/1jvWavE) also accuses a four-member majority of the seven-person council of setting the process up for failure.

"We will not continue to participate in this process on such terms," LCMC wrote. "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."

Months of stalemate over which company would be selected to run the hospitals, led HCA and Ochsner Health Systems to drop their offers to lease West Jefferson and its sister facility, East Jefferson General Hospital, earlier this year.

Councilman Chris Roberts said, a key LCMC ally on the council over the past year, told NOLA.comThe Times-Picayune (http://bit.ly/1ttmwCE) that LCMC's latest proposal contains "some" material changes but "not nearly" to the extent that has been reported. Roberts and council members Elton Lagasse and Ricky Templet have supported LCMC's bid, along with the board of West Jefferson Medical Center.

The four other council members have been skeptical of that offer or supported HCA's bid. Those members have used their one-vote majority to install a consultant seen by LCMC as overly critical on the negotiating team.

"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."

A previous LCMC offer for both hospitals deducted their pension liabilities from LCMC's lease payments. In a statement last week, LCMC referred to its two offers of $212 million and $225 million as "total consideration," the lower figure applying if LCMC assumes West Jefferson debt and the higher figure if it doesn't.

Information from: WWL-TV, http://wwltv.com

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