An ovation for a new safety net

As a vital safety net was ripped to shreds, panic ensued.

The collapse of public health care services in its current form in Louisiana seemed imminent. The LSU Health Care System was facing another $287.1 million in budget cuts, state general funds that weren’t there to sustain the system.

In the Tri-parish region Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center was bracing for its New Year share of the cut, an anticipated bludgeoning caused by the evaporation of $14.3 million, about 15 percent of its budget.

Having already cut labor and delivery, nursery and neonatal intensive care units, as well as 80 jobs in 2012, Chabert was staring into the abyss.

And then came unlikely heroes. Terrebonne Parish Government forked over $2 million, and Lafourche Parish Government was expected to decide last night whether or not to contribute $1 million, one-time allotments meant to afford Chabert time to strike a grander deal.

That deal was announced Monday. Terrebonne General Medical Center, a publicly owned hospital, and the Ochsner Health System, a private entity, have tentatively agreed to contribute $12 million to Chabert in 2013.

The public-private partnership was one of three such arrangements announced throughout the state.

Details of the arrangements are scarce, but for one more year, Chabert can breathe. All involved in the local government-public-private partnerships deserve applause.

Of course, the private companies partnering with charity hospitals aren’t without their own motives. Should the charity hospital system shed services in a quest to survive – and should it collapse altogether – private hospitals would see an influx of indigent patients and “uncompensated care.”

Considering the low Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement rates, profits would undoubtedly suffer. On the private health care balance sheet, this is an investment in infrastructure, a foundational effort for future stability.

Although the partnership is at least partially a business decision, its benefits transcend private self-preservation.

A successful public hospital is saved from fiscal quicksand. A residency program that treats 75 percent of outpatients will not vanish. No, emergency room services, operating room beds and staff physician totals will not be cut in half. Two hundred forty-five jobs are saved.

The hospital has a place to land, and private industry stepped in where state government couldn’t to weave the safety net.