Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
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MANDEVILLE, La. - Seven months ago, Meridian Behavioral Health Systems entered into an agreement with the state to operate the old Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville, as Northlake Behavioral Health System.

In that time, the centers for Medicare and Medicaid, or CMS., part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, has found a number of problems. In a warning letter threatening the eligibility of the hospital to remain part of the Medicare program, the agency says the problems are of such a serious nature as to substantially limit the hospital's capacity to render adequate care.

'Some of them were different interpretations of existing standards and we've done what we needed to do to come into compliance with those new interpretations,' said Northlake CEO Richard Kramer.

In a May review of the hospital, the report listed complaints including improper response to an employee shoving a patient, not maintaining proper records or approvals for those records, as well as an overall need for more staffing. The CMS. did acknowledge the issues do not constitute an immediate threat to the health and safety of patients, but people from the group opposing the privatization say they're not surprised with the problems.

'It's a shame,' said Mary Engle with Save Southeast Hospital, 'I'm sorry to hear that because mental health care is needed so desperately, especially in this area.'

Northlake administrators responded with a list of corrective actions, including re-training staff, hiring more staff, and requiring several levels of reviewing for records.

'There have been many things that have changed in the past six months; not all have gone without any glitches. But overall, it's gone very well and we're happy with the direction of how things are moving,' said Kramer.

The state DHH is set to come to the hospital in the next few weeks to make sure all of the issues have been fixed. The agency says it remains committed to the health, safety and welfare of everyone receiving services in Louisiana. And hospital administrators say they are accomplishing their goal of increasing the number of beds, staffing and services to what Southeast offered before the takeover, plus more.

If Northlake is not found to have come into compliance by the deadline two days ago, C.M.S. says it will continue the termination process, but the hospital will be given one final opportunity to make adjustments before an official termination is set for September.

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