Jul 17, 2014 3:21 PM by Associated Press
Officials say St. Francis Medical Center's decision whether to move from downtown Monroe and consolidate its acute care hospital services to its facility on U.S. Highway 165 should come before the end of the year.
Chief Executive Louis Bremer and Stewart Gentry, chairman of St. Francis' local advisory board, tell The News-Star consultants are working to collect data to evaluate both plants and ultimately come up with a recommendation by September.
St. Francis, which has been an anchor in downtown Monroe for more than a century, is the largest hospital in northeastern Louisiana and one of its largest employers with about 2,200 full- and part-time workers.
An economic impact study conducted by University of Louisiana at Monroe economists Bob Eisenstadt and Paul Nelson estimated St. Francis is responsible for about $660 million in annual economic activity.
Bremer said the downtown campus, which includes one building that dates back to 1944, "was built for a different era of health care."
"It was designed for inpatient care; not outpatient care," Bremer said. "We have 450 inpatient beds and we need nowhere near that many. The number of inpatients we serve today is more like 250 to 275."
Bremer also said the building's age and design makes it inefficient.
"We have about $3.5 million a year in utility costs and significantly higher maintenance costs because of its age," he said.
Bremer said continuing reductions in Medicare reimbursements, continuing cuts to the state's Medicaid program and the state divesting itself of the old charity hospital system have created a financial crisis that St. Francis must address.
"In a perfect world we would build a new hospital, but that could be a $350 million project," Bremer said.
So the consultants will focus on whether a consolidation to the newer, smaller facility on U.S. 165 North would make sense for the hospital's future.
If St. Francis did leave downtown Monroe, Bremer said he would hope the location could be used for economic developing, mentioning a new city arena or convention hotel as possibilities.