On the eve of his appearance before the Joint Legislative Committee to discuss the state's $304 million budget deficit, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is getting the support of the CEOs of Alexandria's two largest hospitals.
In a letter penned to Edwards Thursday, Nancy Hellyer, the CEO of CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital, and Jason Cobb, the CEO of Rapides Regional Medical Center said that a plan proposed by District 25 State Representative Lance Harris to deal with the budget "causes us deep concern and we are writing to ask you to repudiate this proposal."
Earlier in the week, Harris unveiled his plan to close the state’s 2017 budget deficit, a plan that would include cutting $147 million from the Department of Health, avoid a special session and not draw from the state's Rainy Day Fund.
On Wednesday, Edwards lashed back. In a news release headlined as “Widespread Opposition to Harris Budget Proposal,” the governor contended that Harris’ plan would defund "every public-private partnership hospital across the state," including those in Alexandria that Cabrini and Rapides are currently part of. The CEOs made it clear in their letter that they also fear the impact of Harris' plan.
"This type of cut to LDH would directly impact the delivery of hospital services provided through the Public-Private Partnerships and significantly hinder our ability to provide services in Central Louisiana," Hellyer and Cobb wrote.
Hellyer and Cobb contend that with a loss of another $250 million in federal matching funds, the real cut to LDH would be closer to $400 million.
"We hope you understand the direct impact this plan would have on the constituents in your district and the ability of some Louisiana citizens to seek even basic medical attention and critical care services," the two added.
Appearing on KALB’s “Second Look" Wednesday, Harris pushed back on the governor, saying that Edwards is using the same scare tactics of a year ago where he claimed that LSU Football could even be eliminated if the state didn’t solve its financial woes.
“Unfortunately, it’s this kind of scare tactic that the Jindal Administration used and he’s using to try to cloud the conversation,” Harris said.
Harris added that he knows his plan will be criticized and that others would use scare tactics to get it stopped, but he also said that what most of the cuts amount to are cuts to the rates of increase the state gave to several of those entities for 2016.
“Why didn’t they have to close all the hospitals last year when they were operating on $750 million?” Harris asked. “Just this year alone, we have raised out budget $2.8 billion, 10-percent. We’re up to $31 billion a year. Of that state general fund and state effort, we have raised it $900 million dollars, that’s your tax dollars, 5.5 percent. Louisiana Department of Health, we gave them an additional $740 million this year, and he says we can’t cut not even 20-percent of that additional 25-percent we gave them over last year?”
Even so, both Hellyer and Cobb put in uncertain terms what they are looking for from the governor.
"We humbly request that as the voice at the Capitol for the Louisiana citizens most in need, as well as the over 8,000 employees statewide who care for them, that you repudiate the proposal advanced by Rep. Harris," they said.