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Fight is on to prevent closure of Mandeville hospital PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, August 14 2012 - 10:53 am

MANDEVILLE, La. - The fight to keep a state mental hospital open and operating has taken a legal turn.

The phase down of Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville is a month and a half away, but people trying to prevent that are pulling out all the stops. The latest attempt questions whether the state can close a hospital without legislative action.

"I think the legislature should have say in all these things," said State Senator Jack Donahue, R-Covington. "The legislature is not a rubber stamp body that hangs around and does whatever anybody else wants."

Donahue also wants to know the fate of $6.5 million from the sale of parts of the hospital property that was supposed to be for the hospital's operation and maintenance. The parish completed the purchase from the state in the past 90 days, and legislation Donahue passed in 2008 says the money is dedicated to SELH.

Donahue is asking for both answers in an opinion from the Attorney General.

"Based on a review by DHH’s legal counsel, this Act does not prohibit DHH from ceasing operations at SELH," DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein said. "The Act simply mandates that any sale proceeds be placed into the Facility Support Fund and restricts use of those proceeds to restoration, renovation, construction, or maintenance of SELH."

Greenstein says newer legislation allowed the Facility Support Fund to be put into a trust fund.

"In accordance with Act 378, these funds were transferred to MATF in order to support the Medicaid program, including payments made for the continued operations of SELH during that year. For example, DHH records show that actual expenditures at SELH, based on FY12 data, amount to $142,009.90 per day. Further, DHH fiscal records show that DSH payments to SELH for FY12 totaled $23,791,385, which represents approximately $9,257,227.90 of state match. Thus, this state share far exceeded any proceeds realized from the sale of the surplus SELH parcels," he said.

Parish officials, and their attorneys, are pouring over court records to see how this kind of situation has played out in the past.

"They have come up with cases in other parts of the country that this was not allowed for a facility to be closed like this," St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister said.

So the Parish Council "respectfully demands," in a resolution, that the closure order be rescinded. Meanwhile, Brister plans to offer some of the parish's public health tax to keep the hospital operating a little longer. Last month, she announced using the tax was an option being considered by the parish. She also plans to tell the state about offers from local doctors and nurses to do pro-bono work at the hospital.

Brister, Donahue and others are scheduled to meet again with DHH Thursday in Baton Rouge.

 

Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl

 
Plan to close Southeast Louisiana Hospital ruffles feathers in St. Tammany PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, August 12 2012 - 9:58 am

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to close Southeast Louisiana Hospital near Mandeville is not sitting well with the people of St. Tammany Parish, where the former congressman from the 1st District often returns to warm receptions and broad smiles from those who helped to elevate him to the state’s highest office by an overwhelming majority of the vote. The ruffled feathers belong to many of the governor’s closest political allies, including power players such as Parish President Pat Brister and state Sen. Jack Donahue, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who count Jindal as a close friend of St. Tammany Parish.

Yet, when Jindal’s appointed secretary to the state Department of Health and Hospitals made the announcement last month that the hospital would close as a result of reduced federal funding for the state’s Medicaid program, the decision came “without so much as a phone call” ahead of time, said Donahue, R-Covington.

Brister and the St. Tammany Parish Council have formalized their opposition to the plan to shutter the mental hospital, with the council passing a resolution earlier this month objecting to the closure plan and requesting that the governor rescind the plan in the interest of the health and safety of the citizens of St. Tammany Parish, the New Orleans area and the entire state.

Brister said she is willing to offer the state more than half a million dollars that officials say would be saved during the current fiscal year by closing the hospital. She said she would consider providing the money if it means the parish can buy some time to ensure that services to the parish’s residents remain in close proximity.

One of St. Tammany's largest employers

In addition to the being one of the parish’s largest employers, with 563 employees, the iconic hospital provides 174 inpatient beds for the people of St. Tammany and elsewhere in the state.

Officials with DHH have said that roughly 250 employees will find jobs at other hospitals because of increased demand for services there, though those people will have to relocate outside the parish and, likely, the region.

The same fate will befall many of the patients at Southeast, who will have to travel long distances to the two remaining state hospitals that offer psychiatric care: Eastern Louisiana Mental Hospital in Jackson and Central Louisiana State Hospital in Pineville. Earlier, the state closed the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital and transferred those patients to Southeast.

Kathy Kliebert, deputy secretary at DHH, said many of the beds are “state” beds, used by people from throughout the state. The acute care beds that are used mostly by the people of St. Tammany Parish and greater New Orleans will remain in those areas, she said.

St. Tammany Parish is known as having one of the highest suicide rates in the state. Yet, of the 774 people that came through Southeast last year, just 135, or 17 percent, were from St. Tammany, St. Washington, Tangipahoa, Livingston and St. Helena parishes combined.

Kliebert noted that the state is working on a plan to provide transportation from a central point for those families that must travel to visit their loved ones at the hospitals in Jackson and Pineville. In the end, Kliebert said the state is “adamant” about continuing to provide the same services and the same number of inpatient beds within the state that Southeast does now.

Hospital will close in phases, beginning Oct. 1

The closure of Southeast will provide $555,000 in savings for the state in fiscal year 2013, which runs through June 30, Kliebert said. The hospital is expected to start phasing down operations Oct. 1.

Though Brister will meet Thursday in Baton Rouge with DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein to discuss the possibility of keeping the hospital open a little while longer, Kliebert said the hospital staying open until the end of the fiscal year just pushes the cost of the closure into the following year, thereby decreasing the expected savings in 2014.

Assuming the hospital closes as planned, the savings in successive years would amount to roughly $3.5 million, she said.

Kliebert said the closure plan has always been a part of DHH’s strategy, with the idea being to reduce the agency’s footprint in the state by transferring that responsibility to the private sector. The need to make budget cuts just sped up that plan.

And the congressional action that precipitated the state’s decision to close the hospital required quick action, or else the state would see smaller savings and be forced to make cuts elsewhere, Kliebert said. She said that’s why the state Legislature wasn’t notified ahead of time of the closure plan.

In fact, Rep. Scott Simon, who lives in Abita Springs and chairs the House’s Health and Welfare Committee, didn’t know it was coming, Donahue said. Simon did not return calls this week for comment on the matter.

St. Tammany senator 'blind-sided' by decision

Donahue said he was “blind-sided” by the decision, noting that he couldn’t recall anything like this ever happening before in his four years in the Senate. He said he would have expected some discussion to have occurred, with a plan in place to consolidate facilities, especially with six of the nine legislators representing St. Tammany Parish serving as committee chairs.

Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, shared that sentiment, saying that he believes the matter first should have come before the House and Senate Health and Welfare committees, at a minimum. Instead, he said he learned about the closure of Southeast from a press release.

“We’ve got a lot of the governor’s leadership right here in our parish, and it’s surprising none of us knew about it,” said Nevers, who chairs the senate’s Judiciary A Committee.

Brister said she believes the state made a rash decision to close the hospital and noted that it’s the state’s responsibility to help the parish find a way to keep the services in place.

“I know our citizens are upset with the way we found out about it and the way it came to pass,” she said, noting that the decision to close the hospital ultimately rests with Jindal. “I’m very disappointed with how this is taking shape. I wish he had given us a little more notice and ask for our input a little more. We literally had no input.”

The Parish Council isn’t even sure that the state has the legal authority to close the hospital, citing Title 28 of the Louisiana Revised Statues, which deals with the state’s obligation for the treatment of those who are mentally ill.

Mike Sevante, the council’s administrator, said he isn’t sure the law gives specific authority to close hospitals. He said he believes that the law simply allows the state to reorganize and consolidate administrative functions, not the operations themselves.

Along that same line of thinking, Donahue said he has asked the state attorney general’s office for an opinion as to whether Jindal had the legal authority to close the hospital.

“We feel certain that we are within our legal rights to close this facility,” Kliebert said. “We feel very confident that we are abiding by those laws.”

Donahue also asks in his letter to the Attorney General’s office 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. The money from that sale was to be used to fund the hospital’s maintenance and operations. The senator authored the bill in 2008 that allowed for the purchase, and Jindal signed the bill into law.

 
Lawmaker questions legality of hospital closure PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, August 11 2012 - 9:55 am

State Sen. Jack Donahue has asked for an attorney general’s opinion on the legality of Gov. Bobby Jindal closing a mental health hospital in Mandeville without getting legislative approval.

In the opinion request, Donahue also questions the allocation of the proceeds from sale of some of the Southeast Louisiana Hospital’s land. The Senate Finance Committee chairman argues that a state law he sponsored requires money generated to be used for maintenance and operations of the hospital. That money could be used to keep the hospital open, the Mandeville Republican said.

Attorney general’s opinions are of an advisory nature and do not carry the weight of law.

Southeast is scheduled to close in October as part of Jindal’s plan to close an $859 million budget hole that developed when Congress suddenly reduced the federal contribution to the state’s Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

The patients at Southeast are scheduled to be moved to other facilities, including East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson, and some 500 employees laid off.

The reduction came after the Legislature had approved the state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

“I’m well aware of the state’s budgetary concerns and constraints, but closing a mental health facility in a parish with one of the state’s highest suicide rates is unwise, to say the least,” Donahue said in a news release his office released Friday. “There must be another way to keep this facility open while still operating in a fiscally responsible manner.”

State Department of Health and Hospitals officials did not respond Friday to a request seeking comment by deadline.

Donahue said a law he sponsored authorizing the sale of some undeveloped Southeast campus land requires the money to be deposited in the state Department of Health and Hospitals Facility Support Fund.

“The state’s recent sale of land on the hospital site generated revenue that should be used to continue funding its operation, according to the bill I authored and the governor signed four years ago. I want to do everything possible to keep Southeast Hospital open.”

Donahue said he and other local officials are seeking other funding to keep the hospital open.

 
State sales tax holiday Friday, Saturday PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, August 02 2012 - 9:51 am

Most retail items will be exempt from state sales tax this weekend, just in time for back to school shopping. Most schools in St. Tammany Parish will begin next week.

Friday and Saturday, the first $2,500 of the purchase price of each eligible item of tangible personal property will be exempt from the 4 percent state sales tax. This could amount to a saving of $100.

The timing of the tax-free weekend coordinates with back to school and the purchase of those supplies in order to help parents with those purchases; however, more than school supplies and uniforms are eligible for the 4 percent exemption. Several stores, in fact, are holding sales and will pay local sales tax as well as consumers receiving the state exemption, so check ads for the best sales and prices.

Certain conditions do apply, including the following: the customer must buy and accept delivery of eligible property; or place the property or layaway. The customer could also acquire property previously placed on layaway or placed an order for immediate delivery, even if delivery must be delayed, provided that the customer has not requested delayed shipment.

Things that the exemption does not cover include any vehicle subject to license and title such as a car, truck, motorcycle, boat or motor home; meals prepared for consumption on premises or to-go; or taxable services such as hotel occupancy, laundry services, printing services, telecommunication services, the furnishing of cold storage space, leases or rentals of tangible personal property, repairs to tangible personal property, and admission to athletic, amusement, or recreational facilities or events

The Louisiana Department of Revenue encourages shoppers to retain receipts for school supplies, uniforms and educational equipment required by schools. These expenses may be eligible for tax deductions on 2012 Louisiana Individual Income Tax Returns due May 15, 2013. To claim the deductions, you must be able to claim the student as a dependent on your state individual income tax return, and you must be able to provide documentation for the expenses.

 

 
Northshore officials looking to keep Southeast Louisiana Hospital running PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, July 26 2012 - 10:26 am

The closure of Southeast Louisiana Hospital for mental health in Mandeville may be a certainty, but that's not stopping Northshore leaders from finding a way around it.

Their biggest concern is mental health services for the rest of the community after the doors begin shutting in October. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is shutting down operations at the facility as part of a plan to deal with the elimination of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicaid money.

Right now, the future of the hospital includes sending patients to three other facilities across the state, or private facilities in the New Orleans and Northshore areas. No direction has been determined for outpatient services provided by outside organizations for patients at the hospital, and the rest of the community.

When the state refused to budge on that plan this week, St. Tammany Parish leaders started a meeting of the minds.

"That's a black cloud for us and we're trying to find where the silver lining is and we're hoping the silver lining will be, as a community, we can come together and think of something to do with that facility," said state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.

One of the ideas on the table is the parish stepping in with its own money to help keep outpatient services in the facility.

"We have a public health millage in this parish and we're just trying to see what we can work with that, along with other public, private partnerships," said St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister

The main goal of this effort is to maintain services, like the Alcohol and Drug Unit and group homes for adults and children. DHH says it's on board with alternatives.

"If the local government and local leaders have plans that are innovative, that would meet the needs of those citizens, we're certainly willing to discuss that and are happy that they're coming up with some ideas that would do that," said DHH Deputy Secretary Kathy Kliebert.

Organizations that work out of the campus say it's a huge weight off of their shoulders to hear someone is on their side.

"For them to agree to help us is truly going to keep our organization alive and give us the ability to continue to help individuals that need it in the community," said Nick Richard, executive director of National Alliance for Mental Illness-St. Tammany.

Leaders want the public to know they're determined to save something.

"We're going to take it on, we are, in your words, very apt, hell bent, because we're going to find a way," Brister said.

Brister is also working in ideas she returned from Washington, D.C. with on Thursday and plans to meet on those ideas again next week.

As for the hundreds of jobs at the hospital, the state plans to transfer some of the workers with the patients. Any private-public partnership developed will require the rest of the employees to be considered first for new hires.

 

Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl

 
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