Hundreds attend meeting to discuss future of River West

Staff reports

Several hundred residents crowded the Carl F. Grant Civic Center Thursday night to seek answers regarding the only hospital operating in Iberville Parish.

A panel of seven doctors, along with several government officials, discussed the hardships plaguing River West Medical Center, as well as what can be done to maintain its presence in the community.

While much of the discussion focused on solutions to help retain River West, panelists warned that the facility remains in dire jeopardy.

“Quite frankly, it’s teetering,” Dr. Steven Lee said. “It’s on the edge, and it could go down at any minute.

“And once it does, there will never be another hospital over here,” he added. “There will never be another license. There will be another provider number.”

Many of those attending fielded complaints on issues ranging from outstanding bills to the quality of health care. But many other questions focused around possible methods of saving the facility.

Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso said the attendance for the meeting proved the dedication of the community to help keep River West in operation.

One resident asked about the possibility of Iberville Parish government taking ownership of the hospital.

“The question is: Do you, are you going to vote for a millage increase to run this hospital?” the parish president responded.

Ourso said he would consider the option of parish ownership for River West. An October election would be the earliest available date for voters to decide on the measure.

The healthcare facility’s problems began in late January when dozens of paychecks totaling around $100,000 bounced. The state Department of Health and Hospitals funneled cash to River West to cover the checks.

The facility encountered the same problems the following week, but the DHH could not legally issue more money to the hospital.

The parent company, Shiloh Healthcare Services, terminated hospital CEO Brian Bogle after state and parish officials sought involuntary bankruptcy for the hospital. Federal bankruptcy hearings are set for March.

The Springfield, Mo.-based company has also laid off half of the 200 workers at River West, and has transferred most of its patients to other area hospitals.

Shiloh owner Jim Cheek has said he intends to keep River West open and fully operational, based on patient demand.