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Jun 10, 2011 9:24 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP

Vitter pushes alternative to Jindal hospital plan

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - U.S. Sen. David Vitter and other
statewide elected officials on Thursday pitched an $800 million New Orleans teaching and research hospital that they say would cost less and offer a more manageable model than the one fellow Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal supports.
Vitter, House Speaker Jim Tucker and Treasurer John Kennedy, all Republicans, sent a letter to Jindal with their recommendations about the new University Medical Center, proposing a new partnership between Tulane University and Louisiana State University.
Under the proposal, the state would buy Tulane's hospitals in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, which are co-owned by private firm Hospital Corporation of America. Those hospitals would be merged with a new state-constructed 250-bed hospital that is smaller than the 424-bed hospital Jindal backs.
The three facilities would make up the University Medical Center to train new doctors, nurses and other health professionals, care for the indigent and boost medical research in the New Orleans area.
Vitter, Tucker and Kennedy said the plan would cost well below the $1.2 billion current price tag for UMC and could be achieved mainly with dollars already in hand, rather than borrowing $400 million.
"Far from delaying the project, this alternative plan can clearly be executed far more quickly than the current proposal of building a new mega-hospital from scratch," the Republicans wrote in their letter to Jindal.
Jindal's office was noncommittal Thursday about scrapping its existing plans.
"We appreciate their ideas and look forward to meeting with them after the legislative session," governor's spokesman Kyle Plotkin said in an email.
UMC is planned to replace LSU's Charity Hospital, which was flooded and shuttered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The university has been running an interim facility since Katrina. Jindal administration construction chief Jerry Jones has said officials hoped to start construction on the new facility in mid-July, though Vitter, Tucker and Kennedy said they thought that timeline wasn't realistic.
Haggling over the new hospital's financing and size began within months after Charity was closed, and multiple studies have been conducted to determine how much a hospital would cost the state annually.
The proposal from Vitter, Tucker and Kennedy comes after the latest consultant to review the 424-bed UMC proposal - Illinois-based Kaufman Hall & Associates Inc. - said it would require state subsidies of up to $125 million a year to operate.
"Under the current proposal the project will go broke. The numbers are the numbers. This proposal will save it. It will be quicker. I think we can shave years off of the time under the original proposal that it would take to get a hospital going," Kennedy said, calling the Jindal-backed model "a fool's mission."
LSU's hospitals chief said the consultant's report was based on faulty data and doesn't count several streams of state and federal funding the university's hospital in New Orleans already receives.
Fred Cerise, LSU vice chancellor for health affairs and medical education, called the Vitter proposal "a stunt" that could hamper LSU's ability to develop a world-class academic teaching facility similar to facilities in Birmingham, Ala., and Houston.
"It's an idea that has no analysis and to just blast it out to the governor and legislative leaders the way that this is done, without a real discussion to try to understand these issues, I think it's an irresponsible approach," Cerise said.
Cerise has said three prior studies showed the current financial plan for the hospital is workable because hundreds of millions are earmarked for the project.
The state has committed $300 million in construction money, and another $435 million in federal hurricane recovery money is available. State officials also expect further federal recovery dollars to be available. But additional dollars still would need to be borrowed to cover building costs, under the Jindal administration-backed plan.
The plan offered by Vitter, Tucker and Kennedy would have the new 250-bed facility either built within the shell of the old Charity Hospital building or in the new site currently planned for the 424-bed hospital. Vitter said their construction cost estimates were based on talks with people in the hospital industry, though he declined to identify them.
The officials say the combined capacity of the three hospitals making up University Medical Center would be 600 beds, "offering even greater opportunity to host a broad array of specialties and sophisticated practices than the current proposal."
Cerise said Vitter, Tucker and Kennedy haven't spoken to the governor's facility planning office or the LSU leaders who have been working on the hospital replacement since Katrina to discuss their recommendations. He said some of the suggestions included in their proposal already have been discarded as unworkable.
"I can't understand why the speaker and the senator want to impede the biggest economic development plan the city has ever seen," he said. "They're not talking to anybody. They're just coming out with these broad proclamations. I just don't understand the motives. I don't understand the approach."
Vitter has consistently opposed the construction of a new 400-plus bed hospital to replace Charity Hospital, an idea first proposed by Democratic former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and then later backed by her successor, Jindal. Vitter says the plan is too costly and too large. The senator instead supported rebuilding the Charity Hospital building or shrinking the footprint of the new hospital.

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