The architectural firm of Grace and Hebert has already assembled a team to investigate the condition of the former River West Medical Center building to help determine the feasibility of the parish's acquiring the property and getting the hospital reopened.


The architectural firm of Grace and Hebert has already assembled a team to investigate the condition of the former River West Medical Center building to help determine the feasibility of the parish's acquiring the property and getting the hospital reopened.

Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. told the POST/SOUTH Tuesday he  received word from Jerry Hebert of the firm that they are ready to start.

The architects geared up after the Iberville Parish Council action last week to approve without objection Ourso's proposal to test the feasibility – and “probability” -- of buying the building and grounds from Westside Physicians LLC, and appointing a hospital board hire an operator to run the facility.

A patient ombudsman appointed by a federal bankruptcy court closed the financially troubled and hurricane-damaged facility in May when unpaid emergency room doctors pulled out.

“I see signs in everybody's yards,” said Councilman Matthew H. Jewell of Maringouin. “They want the hospital. I think we should explore every possibility.”

“Let's shut up talking about what we're going to do, and put up some money and reopen the hospital,” Councilman Howard Oubre Jr. of Plaquemine said. Oubre said he has a sign in his yard, and asked how many other council members did.

The resolution combined two previously existing hospital districts and extended them to the entire parish.

“We believe this lets people know we're serious about looking into this,” Parish Attorney Scott Stassi said of the resolution Ourso proposed.

“The law says you have the authority to create the district and appoint the commission,” Chief Administrative Officer Edward A. “Lucky” Songy told the council.

“We have the final say?” Council Chairman Eugene P. Stevens Jr. asked about the hospital board.

Songy said the council would appoint members to serve staggered terms of one, two or three years.

In November, the council authorized Westside Physicians (WSP) to apply to the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) for $4.3 million in public hurricane recovery funds, part of the $44 million allocated for the Iberville Parish.

“The damages caused by Hurricane Gustav and interruption of medical services certainly contributed to the ultimate financial burdens leading to the closure of the hospital,” Ourso, reading from a written statement, told the council.

After discussions in December, LRA officials and representatives of Westside Physicians were of the opinion it would be easier for the parish to win approval for LRA funding of the hospital renovations, the parish president said.

“We will be meeting with the LRA officials very soon to address the modification of the funding requests for the Parish Council,” he said.

He said he is working with the Westside Physicians' consultant, Robert Galloway, “as we continue to explore the feasibility and probability of reopening a hospital facility” at the site.

“The reopening of a hospital facility will certainly take some time,” he said. “Due to the approval required from the numerous state and federal regulatory agencies. However, we must continue with our negotiations at a fast pace in order to move the project along.”

“Finally,” he said, “let me assure you that I have absolutely no intentions of seeking any property tax millage or sales tax from our residents to fund this hospital. A hospital must be operated in such a manner it is profitable to the professional operator, and we cannot merely rely on taxes to fund a hospital. Our residents and industries already have enormous tax burdens, and they cannot afford any more taxes.”