River West announces 50 percent cut in staff

Tryve Brackin

Shiloh Health Services Principal owner and Chief Executive James R. Cheek told the Iberville Parish Council last night (Tuesday, Feb. 18) his company laid off half of its 200 employees Monday as a cost-cutting measure to keep local River West Medical Center open and operating.

The Plaquemine hospital rooms were empty of patients yesterday and the lack of need for in-patient staff coverage was addressed with the employee cuts. Cheek told the council the hospital will stay open and his company never had intentions of closing. The facility is continuing to staff emergency room as well as outpatient services.

The Shiloh principal owner said damage to the facility during Hurricane Gustav caused the hospital some financial difficulty and the heavy volume of Medicare and Medicaid patients in recent months has provided a lower reimbursement than a lesser number of privately insured patients.

Cheek said there never was any intention of shutting down the facility abruptly. He added he had too much personal investment in the hospital to simply close it. He said the facility could end up being owned by another company in the future, perhaps by a non-profit organization or by a group of local doctors who practice at the hospital and have voiced initial interest in purchasing it. Cheek labeled River West as a full-service hospital and it could stay viable in the area if the community would support it by using it for medical care. With an increase in volume of inpatient care the need to add lost employment numbers back up would follow suit. The owner also told the council the hospital was headed in the direction of closing back in 2007 when his company purchased it and kept it open.

Fears that the hospital would close eventful led to bankruptcy proceedings and a hearing set for March 20 in U.S. Bankruptcy court. Although an ombudsman has been set up by the court to oversee patient welfare and some financial dealings are under strict guidelines, no trustee has been assigned to the hospital. The fact payroll checks bounced caused the State Dept. of Health and Hospitals and the Iberville Parish Council to file to force the company into involuntary bankruptcy proceedings. Cheek appeared at the council meeting to assure local government he has no intentions of closing the doors of the facility.