Of gods, angels, and the Shreveport Biomedical Research Foundation

English: I took photo of LSU Health Sciences C...

LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Elliott Stonecipher

In a few weeks, at 12:01 a.m., on October 1, North Louisiana LSU Hospitals will be taken over by the Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF) of Shreveport, supposedly a part of Governor Bobby Jindal‘s push to “privatize” our state’s indigent care safety net.  Many of us are skeptical of the deal, especially those of us who have learned that much about this deal is not available for the review and consideration of the news media, much less taxpayers.

Among the many areas of concern, I will comment here on an important few.  Thus far, my doing so has netted me the threat of being sued.  Such is the state of affairs in Louisiana in 2013 – regardless that this is unquestionably public business, and regardless of America’s First Amendment protection against “. . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . ,” researching and writing and speaking about this deal has become perilous stuff.

I have learned in this work that what Shreveport’s Biomedical Research Foundation exists to do is a mystery to many of us.  We know it leases space in buildings built with taxpayer money, and that it levies a property tax on Caddo Parish taxpayers.  I know details of its genesis, mainly political, but such is not now the point.  The point is that BRF is not in the hospital or other healthcare business.  In a free and open society where something like handing-off public hospitals to legally protected interests bears a bit of public inspection and debate without fear of reprisal, that lone fact warrants an extensive analysis by the very best legal and accounting professionals.  No such due diligence is underway, regardless, I repeat, that BRF has never been in the hospital business.

Given that existing hospitals in our North Louisiana area do not care to participate in such a deal, why not wait until an entity with hospital management expertise does care to?  Most of us recognize that these hospitals should no longer be publicly operated, but no one told us that in “privatizing” them we would hand them over to an entity that knows nothing about hospital management, or the care of our indigent.  Why?  Why does BRF want to?  What’s in it for them?

Yes, I know one or two of those at the top of BRF have said they are doing “angels’ work” in this deal, but the last time we heard that it came from Goldman Sachs as the Great Recession (if not worse) crushed us, and before that, it was from the boys and girls at Enron as it collapsed and skewered untold thousands of lives.  Goldman said, “We’re doing God’s work!” and the Enron brains said, “We’re on the side of angels!”  I know a thing or hundred about Faith and God and, yes, angels, and about Goldman and Enron.  In my sixty-second year, I know not to look for the former in the displays and demonstrations, or even utterances, of the latter.

Threats notwithstanding, put Elliott Stonecipher down as skeptical.  Very.

Let us remember that in all the heat and threats and displays of the rawest of Louisiana political power, BRF is about to be given public assets worth mega bucks:  in yet-unaudited reports for 2012, the combined revenues of the three subject hospitals was $437,058,645 over $490,000,000.  In the real world, no matter if BRF officials are actually doing “angels work,” taxpayers should be more than only queasy about such a gargantuan gift of public assets – hospitals – to an entity which has no more experience in running a hospital than I do, which is to say, zilch.

Dr. John George

Various and multiple sources have reported that Dr. George plans to sue some who write, say or print anything about him with which he takes exception, even given that as a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors he is a public official who, too, heads a group seeking to be given a huge chunk of state taxpayer assets.  I and others apparently included offered to meet with Dr. George and those who first communicated the threat.  Our offer has not been accepted.  Apparently at issue for Dr. George is a piece I wrote in which I said he and others at BRF had met at a local restaurant with Bruce Greenstein, a former Louisiana cabinet official.

Greenstein is presently under federal and state investigation for actions arising from his work as Louisiana’s Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals.  That is important in context:  should Greenstein be involved in any way in the BRF takeover of the LSU Hospital, it would be important to media and other sources who are studying and investigating these matters.

I would not have written that piece were its contents not confirmed by multiple sources present in the restaurant that evening.  Dr. George, using careful language, says he was not “at dinner with Bruce Greenstein.”  While witnesses have not told me, because I did not ask, whether Dr. George ate dinner, only had drinks, or just sat to visit, various BRF and other officials were there with Greenstein.  I have also confirmed who the other attendees were and/or work for, and identified others with involved agencies who came, but did not sit down at the table.  I know and trust my sources, and believe them.  Steve Skrivanos, Chairman of the BRF Board, confirms his attendance at the gathering, so my original point is confirmed:  what, if anything, does Bruce Greenstein have to do with the BRF takeover of our LSU Hospital?  When accompanied by Skrivanos’ admission that he was there and meeting with Greenstein, Dr. George’s urgent denial of his attendance validates my question:  what is Greenstein’s role in this deal?  What was the subject of the meeting?  Still and again, I stand ready to discuss all of this with Dr. George the moment he accepts the offer.

The emphasis on Dr. George’s involvement in this deal, threats notwithstanding, is appropriate.  While being a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, he is simultaneously the President & CEO of BRF.  The BOS is the Jindal-controlled public board, which originally approved the contract between the state and BRF with 50 blank pages, a vote from which Dr. George recused himself.  George stresses that a person at the state ethics board opined that his dual roles were not a conflict of interest because he is not yet taking a salary for his BRF work.  For several years, I have written and publicly spoken on the subject of our governor’s neutering of the state ethics administration, and was a pro bono consultant for our state’s last legitimate ethics board.  With all due respect, such a determination by the Jindal ethics administration is simply no longer determinative.  Like cases in the pre-Jindal ethics administration era netted opposite determinations.  More to the point, the public’s determination matters:  is Dr. George’s dual role in this deal good for the public and taxpayers?

Dr. George and his supporters assail the fact that I professionally consulted with Willis-Knighton Health System (WKHS) in this matter.  The meaning of that, they say, is that I would not be researching or writing about this otherwise; that I am only doing so on behalf of that client.  That WKHS withdrew from the non-existent “competition” to take the hospital months ago is ignored.  Even more substantively, neither Dr. George nor any of those personally communicating these threats have taken five minutes to find out why I do this work.  I do not get paid for any such research, writing or public speaking on matters in the public interest, and never have.  Note:  that does not mean I am not getting paid now, because I will be paid later, it means I do not get paid.  I do this because I have researched many such deals, and know at least some of the right questions to ask about them.  I live, work, and pay too-high taxes here, thus the public money at issue is partially mine.  Even absent many other motivations, that would be motivation enough.

Examples of How and Why Alarms Are Sounding

In the new version of the contract between the State of Louisiana and BRF, we learn, as examples, that (1) any and all matters pertaining to this transaction will be exempted from protections afforded the public by the Louisiana Public Records Act, (2) that in the deal, BRF is given the assets of the LSU Hospital, BUT without taking any of the Hospital’s liabilities/debt, and (3) that if and when BRF cannot make its required lease payments to the state, the state takes it back.

I mention these shockers for a reason: no matter how inconceivable it may be, where is the downside for BRF if it decides to keep the hospital a couple of years, take the Accounts Receivable and other assets, and pass the emptied hospital back to the state?  Is that even possible?  Yes.  Will the public be able to use the Public Records law along the way to monitor and possibly head-off such bad outcomes?  No.  Will any of the officers of BRF be on the personal financial hook if such occurs?  No.

Do I really think such an outrage is likely?  No, but such happens here, all too often.  Did I believe one public official and one real estate developer could, in Shreveport, use the state highway department to kill a public highway project decades in the making which voters specifically voted to fund and build?  No, never . . . until it happened.  Did I believe our governor would sit behind closed doors to engineer the gutting of state ethics enforcement while simultaneously shouting publicly that his was the “ethics gold standard”?  No, never . . . until it happened.

As long as facts such as these are on the table, and questions such as these unanswered, I remain skeptical.

As long as public officials, public employees and public agencies are in this mix, I will work to expose what they will not reveal.

If I am sued for writing and speaking this, I will ask for all possible help from friends and supporters in my defense, and will by such seek to discover pertinent facts and evidence otherwise withheld from the public.

Along the way, I will not report facts without multiple sources and/or documentary evidence, and never have.

In other words, I will do what I have done for decades, one way or another:  I will assume things are not as public officials are saying they are in this deal, because virtually always in such an atmosphere of threats and intimidation, that is the ultimately proven fact.

Correction: The unaudited 2012 revenue for state hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe was $437,058,645, not $490,000,000, as I reported to you yesterday.  I apologize for the error, and thank the reader who noted it and contacted me.

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11 Responses to Of gods, angels, and the Shreveport Biomedical Research Foundation

  1. Judith says:

    The Banana Republic of Louisiana–how else to explain this?.

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  2. Fredster says:

    Mr. Stonechipher: Who made the determination that:

    any and all matters pertaining to this transaction will be exempted from protections afforded the public by the Louisiana Public Records Act

    Is that normal when state funds and properties are being given turned over to a private entity?

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    • Robert Mann says:

      From Stonechiper:

      (1) That language has been inserted by DHH and DOA in each of these “privatization” contracts.

      (2) Given that the contracts specify various ways that public money will move into and through these “privatized” facilities in the future, no one who believes in governmental transparency will find this exclusion to be anything less than a canary in the coal mine, i.e., a provision which shows the states “need” to conduct this important public business less than openly.

      (3) More specifically, and as an example, the BRFHH contract is based on it paying the state $39,000,000 per year to lease those two hospitals. Given this zero-transparency provision specifically included in the deal, will those of us in the public be able to confirm that the payments are even being made, or will we be forced to attempt to divine such from the DHH funding activity in a legislative session? In fact, legislative budgeting activity notwithstanding, can the entirety of the issue of these payments be excluded from public oversight via the Public Records Act given this exclusion?

      (4) I do not believe the exclusion is constitutional. While BRFHH can claim it is a non-governmental entity, and thus not subject to the Public Records Act, the contract includes many provisions which show continued state support of the hospital – and the LSU Medical School which passes money to the hospital – in perpetuity.

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      • Fredster says:

        Thanks Bob. So they just insert that language in there and just because<i. they say it is so, then it’s so. That really needs to be challenged in the courts so DHH, DOA and Bobby can hire Jimmy Faircloth again to lose another case.

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  3. Bill says:

    I work at E.A. Conway, one of the hospitals taken over. To date, 49 positions will be outsourced, 21 other positions eliminated. All of the positions are lower pay scale. Funny how that happens. The doctors will remain state employees with full benefits…funny how that happens too…

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  4. Rose says:

    You have my full support! “They can’t handle the truth.”

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  5. Butch Gautreaux says:

    Elliot,
    As a former target of your disapproval let me say that I am deeply appreciative of your vigilance in the public interest. I think that you will agree that we have never experienced such “in your face” disregard for what’s right and ethical as we have seen by the current administration. Keep up the good work.
    Butch

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  6. Insider says:

    I would guess that this scheme is the main reason they combined the LSU prez and chancellor positions into 1 and handpicked F.King Alexander to fill it and sign all the docs. Wild Bill Jenkins was pretty malleable but getting old and possibly not up to such an audacious plan. For a taste of the level of audacity involved, go check out the latest post on that thugthebook blog out of Cal State Long Beach. Right now CSULB seems to be the weak link in this plan, and a full investigation there by the California State Auditor might well break the chain. Of course, none of our suspicions about any of this may be true, but then you would think the parties involved would welcome a full investigation in order to clear up the allegations, or not? What do the parties involved say about it all?

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  7. gage says:

    Ya know, it sorta bothers me that I’m starting to get used to hearing folks say they’re being threatened by Jindalistas. One should not *get used* to that sort of thing. Ain’t healthy!

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