JEFFERSON, La. -- In a 4-3 vote, the Jefferson Parish Council deferred the issue of deciding the future of the Parish's two public hospitals, East Jefferson General Hospital and West Jefferson Medical Center.
What's become a months-long decision process will now get even longer. Several members of the council wanted more time to choose an out-of-state auditor to review the proposals by the three firms looking to win a 30-year lease for the two public hospitals.
The three suitors are HCA, Ochsner Health System and Louisiana Children’s Medical Center.
"I was ready to vote two months ago, but I think we need to slow down,” said Paul Johnston, the Jefferson Parish councilman representing district 2.
"Trust me, I've received phone calls from people every day that they're ready for a decision, but I just want to make sure we make the right decision," said Mark Spears, the Jefferson Parish councilman from District 3.
Before the vote, the council heard from a myriad of speakers during the public comments portion of the meeting. Some demanded the council to have an outside review of the proposals, calling it the "most important decision this council will make in generations."
There are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, not to mention the delivery of healthcare to the people of the parish. But others, like Mike Teachworth, called on the council to take action.
"You guys need to decide, pick who you want to pick and decide," said Teachworth.
Council-At-Large Chris Roberts voted against the deferral. He cautioned the council about the added time a new auditor will add to the process.
He said with the addition of an independent audit report, a reasonable time frame to vote on the matter would likely be June. Roberts said more than enough time has been spent in studying the matter.
"It's like a moving target; it's like nailing Jell-O to the wall."
Two business groups in Jefferson Parish, as well as the Parish inspector general, support the council's decision to bring in independent auditing. The council will take up the issue of finding an independent auditor at a full meeting scheduled for March 19.