No private partner, no parish hospital, consultant advises

Staff reports

Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. last week authorized the parish’s hospital consulting firm to seek a private business partner to invest in and operate a proposed new hospital in the Plaquemine area.

A consultant with the firm Stroudwater Associates told Ourso in a telephone conference last week that a private partner is “absolutely necessary” to make the hospital financially viable.

The Iberville Parish Council proposes to use some $21.6 million in federal hurricane recovery funds to build a new facility to replace the defunct River West Medical Center, and to hire an operating firm to manage it. The council hired Stroudwater to conduct a marketing survey and feasibility study to support the parish's application for the funds.

“This is a very complicated project and we still have many hurdles before us to make this hospital possible,” Ourso said in a news release. “The next step is to determine if there is an interested partner out there, because without a private partner, the hospital is not viable.”

Ourso said he continues to insist that the hospital must be self-sustaining and that he would not support any tax initiative or parish funding of a hospital.

Stroudwater is expected to report by the third week of April whether it has identified possible private partners for the venture. If there are no takers, the parish will look at other options to provide emergency care for parish residents, the parish president said.

If an acceptable private partner can be found and the new hospital is determined to be financially viable, the federal and state governments would have to sign off on any operating agreement between the parish and the partner. The parish also would have to obtain operating permits from the state.

Another potential stumbling block would be the repeal, sought by Republicans, of the national health reforms Congress passed in 2010. The parish's consultants consider continuation of health reform policies requiring individual insurance is considered vital to the long-term success of a hospital in Iberville.

The consultant indicated he had to meet with state Department of Health and Hospitals to discuss the state's position on health care reform before he could report to parish officials.

Iberville has been without a hospital since River West Medical Center closed in Spring 2008. Ourso and the Iberville Parish Council at first explored ways to help repair the River West facility and then to acquire it from a group of local physicians who bought the building and grounds.

Ultimately, they allocated nearly half the parish's $44 million in federal hurricane recovery funds toward building a new facility, and hired Stroudwater in November for the feasibility study and marketing analysis.