University Health chairman responds to Willis-Knighton CEO

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I’m writing to respond to Jim Elrod’s recent attack on BRF and our safety net hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe. As we have explained, our hospitals have achieved great things in north Louisiana. Our current disputes, which we are working hard to resolve amicably, unquestionably began with Willis-Knighton’s interference in the operations of LSU and our hospitals, which we believe continues to this day.
The evidence of Willis-Knighton’s efforts to control health care and harm University Health is overwhelming, as even a few examples from the currently public documents revealed in the antitrust case and in response to public records requests show. We remind the citizens of north Louisiana that BRF entered the hospital business only after Willis Knighton, a non-profit with over a billion dollars in net assets and over $400mm in free cash on its balance sheet, refused to operate the hospital in 2013, citing antitrust concerns. When the BRF stepped up, over 3,000 employees in Shreveport and Monroe had received termination notices from the state, and there was no one else to accept this challenge.
And yet even before University assumed control on October 1, 2013, Willis Knighton demanded control of a committee that would control the outpatient clinics at University Health in exchange for terms of millions of dollars of funding.
LSU School of Medicine said “no thanks.”
It is not surprising that in 2013 LSU Vice President of Health Care Dr. Frank Opelka said to BRF CEO Dr. John George that if we didn’t satisfy Willis-Knighton, “WK will be such a problem for BRF that you will have a continuous war on your hands until he (Jim Elrod) steals all of your faculty. You do not want this.”
Finally, LSU gave in to Willis-Knighton’s scheme. In October 2014, LSU School of Medicine Executive Joe Miciotto asked LSU faculty members to provide their needs to operate Willis-Knighton clinics for “private patients.” “Private patients” are the commercial patients University Health vitally needs to keep. These requests were for clinics at Willis-Knighton.
The LSU doctors did not want to move. A letter sent to Chancellor Robert Barish from 3 Department chairs said moving the clinics would irreversibly damage their training program with the potential of having to close some residency-fellowship programs in their departments. The letter goes on to say the financial impact on the hospital based departments will be huge.
Only our antitrust suit in federal court in Shreveport has prevented this critical movement of our patients.
In late April 2015, University Health had arranged to meet with officials from New Orleans based Ochsner Health System, including CEO Warner Thomas. Doctors with the University Health’s Medical Exec Committee were invited to attend the meeting which
University Health said was aimed at enhancing collaboration between the hospital, medical school and Ochsner, for the betterment of health care in north Louisiana.
But Willis-Knighton put a stop to that. This is confirmed by LSU emails discussing the meeting. LSU Baton Rouge. One from LSU Vice President for Finance and Administration Daniel Layzell says, quote –“I assume WK has knowledge of these discussions?”
Doreen Brasseaux of LSU sent an email to LSU Chancellor F. King Alexander that says
– “I guess this constitutes the request for you to call Jim Elrod.”
The pressure from Willis Knighton on LSU and the state has been relentless. Another email dated June 20, 2016 shows Willis Knighton once again holding funding over the medical school’s head. The email outlines Willis Knighton’s demands as it discussed funding for the medical school. One of the demands of Willis Knighton was protection from our antitrust suit.
University Health Shreveport filed the antitrust suit to protect its commercially insured patients, which is the only source of income we have to recapitalize the aged facilities in Shreveport and Monroe. Absent the protection of those patients, our ability to serve the poorest among us would be severely challenged, and Willis-Knighton’s monopoly share would grow even larger.
Furthermore, the BRF sees twice the patients of the New Orleans safety net hospital, yet receives less than half the funding. On a per patient basis, for each dollar that New Orleans receives, Shreveport receives only $.32. This funding model must be corrected, as it discriminates against north Louisiana citizens.
If Willis-Knighton’s interference ends, and north Louisiana is treated fairly, we can continue to improve access to high quality health care for all of its citizens.
I believe Mrs. Shehee would be proud of what the BRF and its community board members have done the past four years to save the medical school and the safety net hospitals from potentially closing. I believe she would be saying “Yes You Can” overcome the challenges that have been before us from the State, LSU and Willis-Knighton.
Steve Skrivanos, Chairman of University Health