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Louisiana's Healthcare And Medical Education Could Be In Jeopardy

The future of Louisiana's medical training programs is in jeopardy as a result of the state’s persistent budget cuts. Both of LSU's health sciences centers, in which medical students train, as well as the hospitals that provide care for underserved areas, are threatened with steep cuts.

Stemming from House Bill 1, the omnibus funding legislation to run the state during the fiscal year that begins July 1, would reduce funding to state operations to help alleviate the $600 million shortfall projection. Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, spelled out how the proposed cuts would directly impact those who rely on state provided health care.

“[Workers] may not be able to show up for work, lose a job, may be stuck at home without the necessary medical treatment that they require, and cause harm to the economy of the state.” Leger said, also pointing out that Louisiana has a shortage of doctors, despite retaining the most medical students of any state. “We’re going to have (fewer) doctors that we educate staying in the state and we’ll have other doctors practicing in other places unwilling to come provide the healthcare services we require”

The Department of Health and Hospitals, including four of the public-private safety-net hospitals with LSU Health Sciences Center, are targeted to endure the majority share of the cuts in a last-ditch effort to keep some of the private contractors from pulling out.  

Discussed during the Senate Finance Committee hearing were Louisiana’s privatization of hospitals, when private partners came to the table to testify the state’s healthcare system has improved substantially since the signing of the public-private contracts. LSU Health Sciences Center Interim Chancellor G.E. Ghali added that a the reductions to the safety net hospitals around the state would create a “double whammy” effect considering the significant amount of funds from the hospitals are funnelled down to the schools.

“I’m trying to not discourage students from training at our school, and I’m trying to keep my school accredited,” said Ghali.

Challenged by Ghali was the notion that the privatization has improved Shreveport public-private hospital and University Health, citing the spring of 2015 hospital safety grade of F, which was doled out by the healthcare watchdog organization known as the Leapfrog Group. University Health currently has a C in the Leapfrog Group’s report card

The chairman of the University Health Board of Directors, Steve Skrivanos, said he was unaware of this grade.

If significant cuts are executed, residency training programs, dental hygiene and nurse undergraduate programs may be indefinitely halted, and the state would have to pick up the tab for sending medical schools residents out-of-state.

“Since July 2015, we have made a total of $20 million in operating budget reductions,” Ghali said. “We’re as lean as we are going to get.”