Picayune: "Ad warns of LSU skipping town; But medical school staying, officials say"

BATON ROUGE -- Turning up the heat in a battle over plans to build a state teaching hospital in lower Mid-City, a Louisiana State University foundation is airing a radio ad that raises the specter of LSU moving some of its medical school operations out of New Orleans.

The effort comes months after Dr. Larry Hollier, the LSU Health Sciences Center chancellor who speaks in the ad, told a New Orleans City Council member by e-mail that New Orleans risked losing the medical school to Baton Rouge if LSU opponents succeeded in scuttling plans to build a new complex alongside a planned U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital.

Another top-ranking LSU official and the state health secretary said a medical school move is not being discussed.

Nonetheless, Hollier wrote to Councilman Arnie Fielkow on Nov. 19: "If the VA thinks LSU is not with them and chooses another site, New Orleans will lose the LSUHSC to BR, and 3,000 faculty homes in New Orleans will go on the market! We are close to a deal with Our Lady of the Lake to be our main teaching hospital!"

The radio ad does not mention criticism of the planning process or some calls for rebuilding Charity Hospital. But, Hollier says, "without a major teaching facility . . . LSU would have to find some other way to train the medical students, dental students, allied health professionals, nursing students. If we can't do it in New Orleans, we would have to move some of our activity to other areas."

The ad is paid for by the Louisiana Health Sciences Center Foundation, which is affiliated with the Health Sciences Center, a component of the LSU System that includes Louisiana's public hospital system.

Foundation officials did not answer inquiries about the cost and duration of the ads.

--- 'A lot of rhetoric' ---

Dr. Fred Cerise, LSU's vice president for health affairs, said he was not directly involved in planning the ads, but he said LSU System spokesman Charles Zewe "has been working with some folks on some things."

Cerise said moving the medical school or permanently moving residency slots "is not anything we've given serious thought to. . . . That's not anything that's in the cards."

State Health Secretary Alan Levine said "a lot of rhetoric (is) flying around from all kinds of people about the hospital." He said the Jindal administration has not discussed moving LSU's medical training components. "I do not think LSU is saying they will do that," he said, "and even if they chose to go that path, I'm unclear where they would get the resources to do it."

Efforts to reach Zewe and Hollier were unsuccessful.

On Hollier's November threat, Cerise said, "I can't speak for Larry, but that's probably just him showing his frustration" with the lagging pace of the hospital project.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said, "LSU is saying lots of things to maintain its death grip on Charity Hospital."

LSU has already announced its plans to close Earl K. Long Hospital in Baton Rouge, moving the medical training components of that facility to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, a private hospital in the capital city. Our Lady of the Lake spokeswoman Kelly Zimmerman said that entity's talks with LSU do not include permanent relocation of New Orleans operations to Baton Rouge.

--- Swirl of issues ---

The ad campaign and the disclosure of Hollier's e-mail, made available on Councilwoman Stacy Head's campaign Web site, come as several political and financial pieces of the hospital plans near a boiling point.

The state facilities office and LSU are preparing their latest appeal in their dispute of FEMA's $150 million offer for Hurricane Katrina damage to Charity Hospital. The $1.2 billion budget for the replacement hospital assumes a $492 million payment from FEMA, with the outcome affecting the availability of bond financing.

Dozens of citizen groups, neighborhood associations and planning organizations continue to press the state to reconsider gutting Charity and rebuilding within its shell.

State lawmakers are mulling a bill to block land purchases and expropriations in the Mid-City footprint pending legislative approval of a more detailed construction budget.

House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, is pushing a separate measure to set up an independent board to govern the new hospital, with the central question being the distribution of power among LSU, Tulane University and other schools whose students are trained in the city's public hospitals.

LSU System President John Lombardi added a new wrinkle to the dynamic last week, saying, "The Legislature needs to get out of our way" and that LSU opponents in New Orleans are threatening the "last opportunity to be a competitive, high-powered American city."

Levine is mediating on the governance issue, including a private meeting this week between Lombardi and Tulane President Scott Cowen. Levine said he and the governor remain committed to construction of a new academic teaching hospital.

"The bottom line is we must have a state-of-the-art medical center that provides all the necessary tools for LSU and Tulane to train their residents, conduct world-class research, compete for and attract the best medical school graduates into residency training in Louisiana," he said.

Tucker said House Bill 830, the governance bill that has already passed the lower chamber, could come before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee next week. Tucker said he still wants a board that is not run by any one school.

"LSU is going no place. They have a billion dollars worth of infrastructure" in New Orleans, Tucker said. "We're going to have a teaching hospital -- run by an independent board, I hope. And it's going to benefit LSU beyond their comprehension."

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Bill Barrow can be reached at bbarrow@timespicayune.com or 225.342.5590.


Original Article: "Ad warns of LSU skipping town; But medical school staying, officials say"
by Bill Barrow | The Times-Picayune
June 6, 2009