MANDEVILLE, La. - The fight to keep a state mental hospital open and operating has taken a legal turn.
The phase down of Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville is a month and a half away, but people trying to prevent that are pulling out all the stops. The latest attempt questions whether the state can close a hospital without legislative action.
"I think the legislature should have say in all these things," said State Senator Jack Donahue, R-Covington. "The legislature is not a rubber stamp body that hangs around and does whatever anybody else wants."
Donahue also wants to know the fate of $6.5 million from the sale of parts of the hospital property that was supposed to be for the hospital's operation and maintenance. The parish completed the purchase from the state in the past 90 days, and legislation Donahue passed in 2008 says the money is dedicated to SELH.
Donahue is asking for both answers in an opinion from the Attorney General.
"Based on a review by DHH’s legal counsel, this Act does not prohibit DHH from ceasing operations at SELH," DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein said. "The Act simply mandates that any sale proceeds be placed into the Facility Support Fund and restricts use of those proceeds to restoration, renovation, construction, or maintenance of SELH."
Greenstein says newer legislation allowed the Facility Support Fund to be put into a trust fund.
"In accordance with Act 378, these funds were transferred to MATF in order to support the Medicaid program, including payments made for the continued operations of SELH during that year. For example, DHH records show that actual expenditures at SELH, based on FY12 data, amount to $142,009.90 per day. Further, DHH fiscal records show that DSH payments to SELH for FY12 totaled $23,791,385, which represents approximately $9,257,227.90 of state match. Thus, this state share far exceeded any proceeds realized from the sale of the surplus SELH parcels," he said.
Parish officials, and their attorneys, are pouring over court records to see how this kind of situation has played out in the past.
"They have come up with cases in other parts of the country that this was not allowed for a facility to be closed like this," St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister said.
So the Parish Council "respectfully demands," in a resolution, that the closure order be rescinded. Meanwhile, Brister plans to offer some of the parish's public health tax to keep the hospital operating a little longer. Last month, she announced using the tax was an option being considered by the parish. She also plans to tell the state about offers from local doctors and nurses to do pro-bono work at the hospital.
Brister, Donahue and others are scheduled to meet again with DHH Thursday in Baton Rouge.