East Jeff hospital board wants to pick its own operator

East Jefferson General Hospital’s board of directors has reaffirmed its determination to make its own decision on what company will win a 30-year lease to run the hospital.

At the board’s first meeting since its preferred company dropped out of the running last week, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, who chairs the board, said the withdrawal of HCA should not mean Louisiana Children’s Medical Center will win the lease by default.

“East Jefferson would like to negotiate with a suitor of its choice,” Normand said.

Wednesday night’s board meeting was the first since HCA withdrew, leaving only Children’s and Ochsner Health System in the running to operate both EJGH and West Jefferson Medical Center. The boards of those hospitals, and the Parish Council, have been split, with the EJGH board pushing for HCA to run that hospital or both and the West Bank board saying Children’s should run both medical centers.

Children’s had argued for the importance of leasing both hospitals to the same company until earlier this week, when it submitted a proposal asking to begin negotiations with the parish for the West Bank facility alone while the council decides EJGH’s fate.

Normand said the board has not decided how to move forward with a search for a new company to run the hospital, but he reiterated arguments that Children’s is not the right fit for East Jefferson and does not have the resources needed to run the two financially troubled hospitals or create the savings they seek.

For now, however, the EJGH board plans to continue urging the Parish Council to let each hospital choose its own management partner, as the board and its supporters on the council have urged in recent months. If the council agrees, the EJGH board will decide how to move forward, Normand said.

“We haven’t fully vetted where we’re at,” he said. “It’s sort of a waste of energy until the council decides if they’re in favor of a split.”

It’s possible the council could act on its own to open up the field of candidates. Councilman Ben Zahn has proposed allowing three companies that were dropped from consideration earlier in the vetting process to reapply.

The parish has hired a hospital consultant, Nemzoff and Co., to analyze each of the finalists’ proposals. The results of that study could determine whether the hospital’s decision-making process is on the right track, Normand said. “We want to see if the expert validates the position of East Jefferson General Hospital,” he said.

Normand also said it is possible that EJGH would in the end agree to being run by Children’s.

“It may be that if we can’t find a suitable partner, (Children’s) will become viable at that time,” he said.