Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
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JEFFERSON, La. -- It could be the biggest and most expensive privatization deal in Jefferson Parish history, and Thursday, those who want to run the two community hospitals gave their final presentations.

And during those presentations, one red flag came up.

It was standing-room only in Jefferson Parish Council Chambers, including health-care providers in scrub suits who were finally getting a chance to hear from the three groups that want to run East and West Jefferson Hospitals. Each had 30 minutes.

Ochsner, a top state employer, cited its own survey that it is the residents' choice.

'This is not about money. This is not a decision about purchase price. This is a decision about quality health care and patients,' said Warner Thomas, the President and CEO of Ochsner Health System.

LCMC, which runs Children's Hospital, Touro and the LSU Interim Hospital, talked about its financial strength, health care reputation, geographic diversity and saving jobs.

'LCMC will not employ any layoff or reduction in force strategies. That's just not what we do. We didn't do it at Touro and we would not do it at EJ and West Jeff,' said Greg Feirn, president and COO of LCMC.

The only profit company in the running, HCA of Nashville, talked about its advantage in financial strength.

'This is about growing the business. This is about developing new jobs,' said Mel Lagarde, president and CEO of the Delta Division of HCA.

But in the nearly three hour executive session, there was a major question to one of the reported favorites: Would HCA ask for money back from the parish at the end of the lease?

'That issue drew a lot of discussion, and I suspect that alone is going to be a big factor. Obviously that impacts the numbers. That impacts the differences between the proposals and obviously could be a very defining factor in what decisions are made,' said Chris Roberts, the Jefferson Parish Council Chairman.

After a long four year process, a decision could finally be near. The two hospital boards will meet within a week, and then the council plans to meet within two to three days to take a vote in front of the public.

The council asked its consultants to clarify those financial terms of the HCA lease proposal, as well as other questions it had of Ochsner and LCMC, before it makes a decision.

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