SHUT DOWN! River West closed at 5 p.m. Friday

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter

River West Medical Center, Iberville Parish’s only hospital, closed its doors as of 5 p.m. Friday.

“There are no more services here. Please don’t come here,” said Jerry F. Pepper the patient care ombudsman appointed by a federal bankruptcy court, told the POST/SOUTH.

“The hospital ran out of money,” Pepper said.

The CEO of River West L.C., the company forced into involuntary bankruptcy earlier this year, said a group of doctors who bought the hospital property on May 7 and tried to take over its operations from Shiloh Health Services had disrupted plans to get the hospital back on a firm financial footing.

Shiloh Health Services will make the final payroll, which was due Friday.

Checks for River West’s remaining 79 employees were expected to be available by 2 p.m. Saturday, according to Betty Blanchard, executive assistant and medical staff coordinator.

“It’s not right the way they did it,” a hospital employee waiting for news about her paycheck told the newspaper. She and other employees said the closure had been rumored at the facility all week, but that they only learned of the decision Friday morning.

The hospital alerted Acadian Ambulance and other first responders not to transport patients to River West after 5 p.m.

“It’s a great loss,” said Guy Ruggerio, who served as chairman of River West’s community advisory board. People involved in wrecks or with acute medical problems would have to go to Baton Rouge for treatment, he said, delaying their care by as much as an hour and a half. “People are really going to feel it,” he said.

At an expedited hearing earlier Friday, the U. S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Louisiana approved Pepper’s motion to close the hospital.

Pepper said the River West had been operating has been operating as “little more than an emergency room,” and that the firm River West L.P. had contracted with for  emergency room doctors had had pulled out Wednesday because it had not been paid in some time.

When Pepper issued the official announcement around 2:30 p.m. Friday, two patients remained at the hospital. They would have to be discharged by their doctors or transferred to other facilities, he said. Four or five others had been discharged or transferred on Friday, a hospital official said.

All hospital departments will be closed, including the emergency room, laboratory and radiology, Pepper said.

“An orderly process of closure is proceeding as the hospital is transitioned and closed,” he said.

That will include providing proper access to patients’ records and protecting their medical privacy, Pepper said.

Last week, a group of five local doctors organized as Westside Physicians LLC purchased the  hospital property from a California company.

The bankruptcy court had approved Iberville Health Services (IHS), organized by the same group of doctors, to operate the hospital on an interim basis, with former CEO Brian Bogle back at the helm.

Pepper said IHS told the court it had $302,000, which the doctors thought would be sufficient, but the complete amount had not materialized.

Bogle said IHS had searched “many avenues,” most of them from government sources, but the funds did not materialize.

James Cheek, CEO of River West L.P., said his company and Shiloh had worked diligently to

come up with a reorganization plan to put the hospital on a firm financial footing.

“Prior to the doctors’ group foreclosing any other purchaser of the hospital, we had an offer from a potential investor to purchase the building from the real estate investment trust that owned it and to provide $2 million in financing for operations,” Cheek said in a written statement Friday.

“This small group of doctors and Bogle has derailed River West’s attempts to bring much needed private capital into the hospital to allow the hospital to reorganize and continue serving the community,” he said.

“River West will now proceed to shut down the hospital in an orderly fashion and will ultimately liquidate what assets it has to pay its creditors,” he said. “River West expresses regret that the ill-conceived plan of the doctors’ group and Bogle has forced the closure of the hospital, particularly when there were other options available.”