CEO: St Francis Neonatal Unit In Jeopardy

MONROE, LA (AP) — St. Francis Medical Center may close its neonatal intensive care unit and other critical care services unless Louisiana increases its Medicaid reimbursement rate to match other regional medical facilities, officials say.

         They probably will decide within 30 days, interim CEO Scott Wester told The News-Star’s Greg Hilburn.

         The facility's pediatric intensive care unit and in-patient dialysis unit and psychiatric services also might be cut, or the hospital might end its Medicaid contract with the state.

         St. Francis — part of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System — said last month that it won't consolidate its downtown and northern Monroe campuses. But Wester said then the hospital cannot sustain another $27 million deficit like last year's and would consider closing its most expensive critical care units.

         Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said Wester never mentioned the possibility of closing the NICU.

         "While we're disappointed (the system) is considering any reduction in services, we do feel there are other options available for the services" in the market, she said.

         Wester said University Health Conway in Monroe, Baton Rouge General and Ochsner in suburban New Orleans get as much as $500 more per day per patient in Medicaid reimbursements than St. Francis.

         "Our argument all along has been to give us an equal playing field," Wester said. "But still to this day we've seen no relief.

         "That's why I'm puzzled when I see the state providing $18 million to Baton Rouge General (last summer) to keep its emergency room open. We're not asking the state to fully make us whole but to treat us fairly moving forward."

         Baton Rouge General and Ochsner get supplemental quarterly payments from the state as part of the another program that subsidizes some hospitals for treating low-income patients.

         Wester said St. Francis asked to participate in that program but was rejected.

         Kliebert said the $18 million appropriation to Baton Rouge General was considered critical because the former state charity hospital, Earl K. Long, had closed and Baton Rouge General is a long distance from other hospitals.

         "We look at different hospitals and access issues and those at Baton Rouge General aren't the same as those with St. Francis," Kliebert said. University Health Conway is within three miles of St. Francis, she said.

         Kliebert and her staff said Medicaid reimbursement rates were set in the mid-1990s and haven't changed because of lack of new money for the program, they said.

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