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Florida company picked to take over state-run mental health hospital in Mandeville PDF Print E-mail
Friday, November 09 2012 - 9:49 am

By Kim Chatelain, | The Times-Picayune
on November 08, 2012 at 4:21 PM, updated November 08, 2012 at 8:10 PM

A Florida-based health care company has been named by the state Department of Health and Hospitals to take over at least partial operations of the state-run Southeast Louisiana Hospital, which for six decades made Mandeville synonymous with psychiatric care. The state's selection of Meridian Behavioral Health of Gainesville marks a watershed development in the months-long controversy that ignited in July when the state unexpectedly announced plans to shutter SELH.

With the private company now part of the equation, St. Tammany Parish government and DHH are working on cooperative endeavor agreements with Meridian with the goal of keeping psychiatric beds on the hospital's campus on U.S. 190 east of Mandeville.


The negotiations could lead to an agreement that allows St. Tammany Parish the use of the state property and facilities. The parish could then enter into an agreement with Meridian and possibly other organizations to operate hospital, according to a press release from parish government.

"Our goal is to have a signed agreement in place in two weeks," said DHH Deputy Secretary Kathy Kliebert. "A lot of hard work has gone into continuing services at Southeast Louisiana Hospital, without increasing the burden to the taxpayers of Louisiana during tight budget constraints."


10t southeast louisiana hospital 5.jpgSoutheast Louisiana HospitalThe Times-Picayune archive


The privatization of SELH has been discussed for months as an alternative to closing the facility, which serves patients from throughout the New Orleans area. On Sept. 13, DHH sought proposals from companies interested in taking over the hospital. Meridian was one of four to respond, offering a plan to operate the hospital at its current location with almost 200 beds. Local officials said they had several meetings with Meridian executives and were impressed with the company's plans.

Last week, the St. Tammany Parish Council approved two resolutions authorizingParish President Pat Brister to execute cooperative endeavor agreement with DHH and an unnamed private provider, setting the stage for a private takeover.


"We have put in place working groups to address and work through the details that will allow the state, St. Tammany Parish and Meridian Behavioral Health to work towards signing an agreement to continue the psychiatric services our area desperately needs," Brister said Thursday in a release.

Catching local legislators off guard, DHH announced in July it would close the hospital as a way of helping offset the loss of federal Medicaid financing. A powerful backlash ensued with proponents of the hospital forming a committee and staging public rallies to call attention to the plight of hospital employees, patients and their families. Several local public bodies have gone on record to oppose the state's plan to close SELH, which currently has a staff of 407.


Group rallies outside Southeast Louisiana Hospital in MandevilleRita Breath holds up her sign saying "Save SELH" during a rally on Highway 190 outside Southeast Louisiana Hospital on Oct. 3.
Ted Jackson, / The Times-Picayune)

Local legislators, many of whom are close allies of Gov. Bobby Jindal, began a push for privatization as a way of saving the services and jobs provided by the hospital. Hospital supporters, meanwhile, said they favored keeping the hospital in public hands and viewed privatization as a less desirable alternative. They feared private companies might be more concerned with profits than with the needs of the patients.

Despite intense pressure to keep SELH open as a state-run facility, DHH continued its drive to extract itself from the operation of the hospital. The state health department, which is trying to counter an $859 million cut to its Medicare funding, says it wants to ensure a sustainable behavioral care system for the future by de-emphasizing the role of large public institutions and instead building partnerships with community providers.


Given the circumstance, several political leaders in the parish embraced privatization as the best way to save the 60-year-old mental health institution that helped define Mandeville before it became a popular north shore residential community.

"Parish President Pat Brister and I have been aggressively pursuing a solution to the problem created by the state's sudden budget cuts," said state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville. "This proposed agreement meets the needs of all who are involved. Taxpayers shoulder less burden, while services continue for those who need the benefits of this facility. This agreement also protects jobs in St. Tammany Parish."

Constitutional Amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, October 18 2012 - 2:01 pm

The link below is PAR’s guide to the constitutional amendments, for voters to learn more about the proposed amendments.

Download PAR's Constitutional Amendments Guide

Voters can get a sample ballot on the Secretary of State’s website linked below.

Sample Ballots on Secretary of State's site

MEDIA ADVISORY: Gov Jindal to Hold Press Conference in NEW ORLEANS on State Preparations for Tropical Storm Isaac PDF Print E-mail
Monday, August 27 2012 - 5:51 pm

BATON ROUGE- Today, Governor Bobby Jindal will hold a press conference with Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other coastal parish leaders at 2:30 PM in New Orleans to provide an update on the state’s preparations for Tropical Storm Isaac.

WHO: Governor Bobby Jindal, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and coastal parish leaders


WHAT: Governor Jindal holds a press conference to provide an update on the state’s preparations for Tropical Storm Isaac.


WHEN: Today, Monday, August 27

2:30 PM


WHERE: New Orleans City Hall

1300 Perdido St.,

New Orleans, 70112


St. Tammany Parish leaders continue push to keep Southeast Louisiana Hospital open PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, August 23 2012 - 11:26 am

Two of St. Tammany Parish's highest elected officials continued to speak Wednesday against Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to close Southeast Louisiana Hospital, telling a roomful of business leaders that he had let down the residents who have been among his strongest backers.


"I think this is an atrocity," Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Covington, said at a luncheon hosted by the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce. "This community has supported you, but you are not supporting the community."


Donahue shared his thoughts about the closure plan as part of a panel discussion on the state's closure plan that included Parish President Pat Brister, Judge Peter Garcia of the 22nd Judicial District Court in Covington and Deputy Chief Brian Trainor of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office.


The state announced its plan to close Southeast at a news conference last month, without notifying the officials in St. Tammany Parish, or its legislative delegation. Officials with the state's Department of Health and Hospitals said the hospital would close as a result of reduced federal financing for the state's Medicaid program.


The state plans to start moving patients in intermediate beds -- 94 of the hospital's 176 total beds -- to other state-run facilities in Pineville and Jackson in less than two months.


However, Brister is optimistic that a private company will request to buy the facility and run the remaining services or enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with the state that allows a company to run the facility, with the state retaining ownership of the Southeast campus.


At a minimum, she said DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein has committed to keeping the facility open until the end of the state's fiscal year in June, to allow for some time to put a plan into place that would keep the services in close proximity to the residents on the north and south shores, who use a majority of the beds at the hospital.


"We are going to find a solution," she said. "There is a solution out there."


Donahue noted that he expects to hear back from the state Attorney General's office in the next few days as to whether Gov. Bobby Jindal had the authority to close the hospital.


He also wants to know what will happen to the $6.5 million the parish spent earlier this year to buy land adjacent to the hospital for use as a future mitigation bank, as the money from that sale was to be used to fund the hospital's maintenance and operations.


Garcia noted the impacts of the hospital's closure on the court system, noting that 22 percent of those who commit felonies have been diagnosed with mental illness. He also said that the state requires courts to evaluate DWI offenders and offer treatment, rather than incarcerate them with no chance of getting better and likely ending up back in jail someday.


Garcia said that while only 11 percent of the general population suffers from mental illness, roughly half of all inmates have mental health problems.


"The jails will become the caretakers of the mentally ill," he said.


Regarding the closure's effect on law enforcement, Trainor said 29 percent of prisoners test positive for drugs during an intake screening, but that's because intake screens are voluntary. If all prisoners took drug tests when they entered jail, the figure likely would be 62 percent, he said.


Trainor also noted that the number of emergency certificates issued by physicians and the coroner's office to request psychiatric care for troubled St. Tammany Parish residents is rapidly increasing, with more than 2,000 total certificates issued for all of 2011, versus more than 2,500 thus far in 2012.


In addition, he cited the parish's suicide rate -- 35 deaths in 2011 -- contrasted with its murder rate, which is low by comparison. He said if the numbers were reversed, people would certainly be up-in-arms.

Slow down on Southeast Louisiana Hospital closure: Editorial PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, August 15 2012 - 10:54 am

St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister is offering $555,000 to stave off the closing of Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville -- the amount that state officials say will be saved this fiscal year by shutting down the 174-bed facility Oct. 1.

Parish officials want to buy time to figure out how to preserve mental health services that are now provided by the hospital and other agencies at the facility. That's a reasonable proposal. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Bruce Greenstein, who is meeting with Ms. Brister and state Sen. Jack Donahue today, should agree to it and work with the parish to keep those services close to home.

St. Tammany officials are right to view mental health care as an urgent need. It is a public health issue and a public safety issue. And since they are willing to put local resources on the line, it's hard to see what the state loses by agreeing to this interim funding.

Parish officials say they were blindsided by the decision to close the hospital in the wake of reduced federal funding for Medicaid. Sen. Donahue said that lawmakers were not given any information or chance to offer input.

But now, DHH is painting the decision not simply as an emergency spending cut but as part of the agency's long-term strategy to transform what it calls the behavioral health care system by moving responsibilities to the private sector.

In a press release Tuesday, DHH outlined a plan to phase out operations at the hospital and build partnerships with private sector providers. Secretary Greenstein called that the "right thing to do'' and said that the focus will shift from large state institutions -- which are not the best model of care -- to smaller residential settings.

But if that's the case, it's hard to understand why lawmakers and local officials were not given any advance notice of this strategy and its implications for Southeast Louisiana Hospital. It's hard to believe that this sudden closure is the result of well-thought-out planning. Just three years ago, the state shut down the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital in New Orleans and moved its patients to Southeast. At the time, Mr. Greenstein's predecessor, Alan Levine, touted the merger as a way to save millions without reducing services.

Now, DHH is pointing to the state's investment in community-based services and to providers who are willing to collaborate to deliver care in the metro area.

"The Department and its partners are also working to build capacity among providers to deliver improved models of care,'' the release says, including the goal of more homelike treatment settings.

Moreover, state officials need to understand that the Southeast campus includes more than a large state institution. The Methodist Home for Children of Greater New Orleans, a 20-bed facility for children who have been subjected to physical or sexual abuse, leases space on the grounds. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, which provides critically needed programs for families of people suffering from mental illness, is also located on the campus. So are two addictive disorder units run by the Florida Parishes Human Services Authority. Patients there include those who have been ordered to receive residential substance abuse treatment by a judge.

While those agencies can conceivably find other homes, it's hard to understand why the state should dismantle something that is working.

Even if Louisiana manages to develop a broad and vibrant spectrum of community services for its mentally ill citizens, the need for hospitalization is not going to vanish.

State officials point out that only 17 percent of residents at the hospital are from the Florida Parishes. But St. Tammany Parish elected officials are obviously convinced that there is a need for the hospital, and many residents of the metro area need it, too. Ms. Brister says that she has received nothing but political support for efforts to keep Southeast open -- from the district attorney, the sheriff, the coroner and judges.

No matter what direction the state ultimately takes with Southeast, surely it would be smarter to have more time to make such substantial changes -- to build partnerships with private providers, to increase capacity, to work with community-based agencies.

St. Tammany Parish officials don't want to see an abrupt closure, and they are right to insist that the state take a more careful approach.


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