BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Employees of the LSU-run hospital system are quitting in higher numbers than expected as the Jindal administration and university leaders seek to privatize its operations, the leader of the health care system said Friday.
Frank Opelka, LSU vice president for health affairs and medical education redesign, said the nonprofit companies taking over operations of many of the university's hospitals need the employees to stay.
"This is a major challenge," Opelka told the LSU Board of Supervisors.
The LSU Health Care Services Division and the state health department are pressing to wrap up the privatization agreements for four south Louisiana hospitals quickly to stabilize the work force, he said.
According to data presented by Opelka, the Health Care Services Division had nearly 6,800 employees at its seven hospitals in July 2011. That dropped to less than 6,000 a year later and to 5,540 by December.
Opelka acknowledged that uncertainty about hospital management and the financial situations of the facilities has prompted some workers to look elsewhere for jobs, but he said he believes the departures will level off when final privatization agreements are signed.
The shrinking staff levels are cutting hospital costs, but also mean fewer services are being provided to patients, he said.
Employees of the university-run hospitals and affiliated clinics set for privatization will face layoffs and then have to reapply for their jobs with the new managers if they want to keep their positions.
After Louisiana's Medicaid financing was cut by Congress, Gov. Bobby Jindal stripped more than $300 million in state and federal funding from the LSU system and pushed to move away from university-run hospitals. They provide safety net care to the poor and the bulk of graduate medical education in Louisiana.
Jindal administration leaders and the governor's appointees on the LSU Board of Supervisors say the charity hospital model is outdated and costly. They say the privatization plans will shrink state costs, while maintaining health services and graduate medical education programs.
Critics say the shift could damage the state's safety net and could leave some patients without adequate access to health care.
Preliminary privatization agreements have been reached for university hospitals in Lafayette, Houma, New Orleans and Lake Charles. Under the latest agreement, the board voted Friday to turn over management of LSU's W.O. Moss Regional Medical Center to Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.
No details have yet been provided about the terms of any of the lease arrangements.
Meanwhile, Baton Rouge hospital operations are shifting to a private facility in April, and the public hospital will be closed, under plans that were accelerated Friday by the LSU board.
Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said she worried university leaders were moving too quickly on the Baton Rouge hospital switchover because of budget problems, without having plans to address identified gaps in patient care.
"I'm afraid that what we're doing now is in such a haste that we're not doing it right," Barrow said.
The Jindal administration also is seeking private managers for several other university-run hospitals, including three in north Louisiana operated separately from the Health Care Services Division.