By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
MANDEVILLE – The fallout from the sudden shutdown of the Louisiana Heart Hospital in Lacombe has put plenty of pressure on the remaining health care providers in St. Tammany Parish, said Lakeview Regional Medical Center CEO Bret Kolman, adding that there is still much more to come on the financial end of the big news.
Three weeks after LHH announced it would be closing its doors after 13 years in operation the other major hospitals in the parish immediately created job fairs and online interview opportunities for over 600 employees suddenly out of work, many with only days of notice.
Since that time there are close to 200 employees who have been hired from the Heart Hospital, many breaking down in tears to see the open arms of other health care providers in the region trying to help, Kolman said.
“The closing of another hospital is a terrible thing for everyone, particularly in our industry,” Kolman said. “I’m sick for these people. We have talked to many who had only a few days notice, and many lost paid time off, or planned vacations.
“We’ve watched many of them come here to interview for jobs and had tears of gladness when they saw how the entire health care community rolled out to help them,” he added.
However, the added burden for other hospitals in the region is something they are all still adjusting to. Slidell Memorial/Ochsner, along with St. Tammany Hospital reported they also offered job fairs and interview opportunities and have hired nearly 100 of the employees from the hospital, to go with what Kolman expects to be about 120 that will be hired at Lakeview Regional.
Kolman said the Louisiana Heart Hospital had 13,000 emergency room visits last year, approximately 60 percent coming from the east side of the parish and 40 percent coming from the west side of the parish. Those ER visits are now all ending up at places like Lakeview Regional and other hospitals in the parish.
“They were seeing somewhere around 100 patients a day at their facility, whether as admissions, cath-lab, out-patient procedures or some capacity needing services,” Kolman explained. “Those people are suddenly showing up at our hospital and others, so we had to adjust quickly to handle that new influx of patients.”
Not only is the health care network in St. Tammany adjusting to many more patients, but the fallout from the Heart Hospital closing is hitting many companies incredibly hard on the financial end.
A bankruptcy report filed by the Louisiana Heart Hospital disclosed dozens of vendors and individuals who are owed millions of dollars.
The major stockholder, Cardiovascular Care Group from Nashville, Tn., owns 96 percent of the business, but then 27 different physicians or medical groups own the final 3.75 percent of the company. Between them all it is estimated total bills owed are in the millions of dollars.
At the top of the list is McKesson Technologies, a major medical supply company from Chicago, Il., owed over $614,000, while other major companies such as Medtronics have various invoices totaling close to a $1 million.
“There are so many companies and individuals owed a lot of money, but some of those companies are smaller and for them to lose $10,000 or so is a major blow to them,” one unnamed CEO said. “The bigger companies will survive, but this is going to hit a lot of companies, big and small, and many of them are right in this area.”
For Kolman and the St. Tammany hospitals the focus is now on providing as many jobs as possible to help those who were so unexpectedly out of work.
“Some of these people out of work are single moms and they don’t have months of money saved up to survive,” Kolman noted. “No one was excited to see what happened over there, even if it means more business for others. For us the competition was never our enemy. The health care workers around here all support each other and this is a hard thing for everyone to deal with.”
At Lakeview, Kolman said he had as many as 12 department directors suddenly change their plans to work the job fair they hosted which resulted in over 120 people showing up to apply for jobs.
“I’m really proud of our staff and how they have stepped up. Many of our directors and others gave up time with their families because they knew we needed them to help these folks suddenly without a job,” he said. “But that is truly the nature of people in health care. It’s in their DNA to meet the needs of others.”
Although Lakeview only had “about 20” job openings when the announcement came out, Kolman said the 120 jobs they have hired for are in expectation for the influx of new patients.
“We knew without question we would have a lot more patients showing up,” he said. “We’re expecting to see it in ICU, surgery, cardiology and orthopedics, in particular.”
He said it was fortunate that Lakeview had completed a $3.5 million expansion of their ER that was finished and ready in January, only a month before the Heart Hospital closed. The hospital went from 12 ER beds to 18, including new trauma rooms.
“Nobody wanted to see this happen, but we have the hospital beds on the North Shore to accommodate the additional patients since we were actually on the high side of the average beds to resident numbers,” Kolman stated. “But you can be sure we will all need the additional staff now since we all have to share in the patients needing a local hospital to go to.”