Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
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MANDEVILLE, La. -- Staff at a Northshore mental hospital met with an unemployment team from the state Tuesday as the facility heads toward a private takeover.

Southeast Louisiana Hospital is set to transition its operations to Meridian Behavioral Health System January 2. Before the deal with Meridian was signed last week, the hospital was set to close due to budget cuts.

While the deal calls for Meridian to put current SELH employees first in line for jobs with the private provider, those employees say they're anxious because not one person has been offered a job and they're all facing a layoff notice from the state effective the day Meridian starts running patient rooms.

'I think employees feel very stressed and very confused and they're really left to speculate with what they're going to do,' said SELH Psychiatrist Dr. Janet Bradley.

'We were brought in for surveys with Meridian about two weeks ago, and they told us they were just trying to see who would be interested in positions, they'd be back in two weeks once they signed the contract, to offer positions or do more interviews, and we haven't heard anything since,' said pharmacy tech Jennifer DeMarcy.

More than 300 employees are included in the layoff plan for Southeast Hospital, which goes before the Civil Service Commission Wednesday for approval. Many of the employees on that list plan to appeal their layoffs, in person.

'The goal is that, well, they hope the layoffs don't happen at all but another less good, but still good outcome would be that they slow down this process and allow time for a longer period of transition,' Bradley said.

Meridian tells Eyewitness News it plans to hire 150 employees within the next 10 days and is aiming at 90 percent of those hires to be current Southeast employees, especially those involved in day-to-day patient care.

'Over the past two weeks, our transition team, including Meridian's executive leadership team, has been on site to screen and interview 329 of the hospital's current employees who have expressed interest in employment opportunities with Meridian at this hospital location,' said Meridian CEO Wes Mason. 'With the assistance of the Louisiana Workforce Commission and the hospital's current human resources department, Meridian will this week begin to accept applications for employment from these current hospital employees. We anticipate that over 90 percent of our workforce will be comprised of individuals who are current hospital employees.'

Mason continues, 'In the past few days, Meridian has identified individuals for the hospital's key roles and executive leadership positions. We are currently in the process of finalizing employment offers to some of these individuals with the expectation that most, if not all, of these positions will be filled from within the current group of SELH hospital leaders.

'Meridian's agreement with the LA Dept. of Health and Hospitals is to serve up to 58 adults and adolescents. Although the hospital cannot reasonably sustain the staffing numbers of the past, Meridian expects to extend full time employment offers to approximately 150 individuals over the next ten days in order to meet or exceed regulatory, accreditation, and industry standards for patient and client care. Reduction in the current SELH employee pool will predominantly affect administrative and ancillary support positions rather than in the positions directly responsible for day-to-day patient care.

'Although Meridian currently has, and will continue to have for the foreseeable future, members of our company's executive and administrative transition teams on site at the hospital, their roles are expressly to assist in the transition of the operation from a state run hospital to a Meridian run hospital. We fully expect that not a single individual will be brought in from Meridian's transition team to permanently fill any position within the hospital's staffing structure,' Mason said.

A job fair is scheduled for all Southeast Hospital employees Friday. The DHH says it is committed, with the assistance of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, to help employees who are not hired on by Meridian find new jobs.

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