Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
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JEFFERSON, La. -- The Jefferson Parish Council is split on which private hospital operator should be given the contract to operate East and West Jefferson medical centers for the next 30 years.

Councilman Ben Zahn from Kenner said that's why he wants the company paid $1.3 million to help pick the three finalists to make a final recommendation.

'This is probably the biggest financial decision we will ever make, maybe in the history of Jefferson Parish,' said Zahn. 'I want to make sure that it not only us making this decision.'

Hospital consultant Kaufman Hall's CEO Therese Wareham sent Zahn a letter referencing an earlier memo from JP's two at-large council members. It stated, 'We were told that this letter from Chairman (Chris) Roberts and Councilman Elton Lagasse represented a specific instruction that our firm was not to provide any recommendation.'

Councilman Lagasse released a statement saying, 'According to the contract that I have, Kaufman Hall is not required to make a recommendation on a suitor to manage the hospitals; however, if Kaufman Hall does make a recommendation, I would have to consider it.'

'I think the people are starting to say again, why is this process not transparent?' said Zahn. 'Why are we doing this with Kaufman Hall? Why aren't we getting this? Why aren't we getting what we paid for?'

Wednesday, the Jefferson Business Council passed a resolution demanding council members force Kaufman Hall to disclose its pick.

'I think it would give the public at least a yard stick as to how to measure the ultimate decision,' said JBC Executive Director Tony Ligi.

Ligi also said the public has a right to know Kaufman Hall's findings.

'It's kind of like running a marathon and you've run 26 miles and you've only got .2 more miles to go and you stop a 26. There really is no reason why we shouldn't get that final recommendation from Kaufman Hall.'

The three finalists are Louisiana Children's Medical Center, HCA and Ochsner Health Systems.

The East Jefferson Board wants HCA. The West Jefferson Board supports Childrens.

Absent a recommendation from Kaufman Hall, council sources say other options include restarting the entire process or allowing East and West Jeff to split the contact and pick the private partner they want to run the hospitals.

Monday, the two 10-member hospital management boards failed to reach a consensus on the potential partner, and that's why the ball is now in the council's court.

The Jefferson Parish inspector general is now involved in the process. Friday, he's expected to send council members a report on the search for a hospital partner.

The council could vote on the matter as early as next week.

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