Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
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GRETNA, La. -- Two of the biggest employers in Jefferson Parish will soon be operated by new management.

West Jefferson and East Jefferson hospitals employ 5,000 people. Another 3,000 jobs are indirectly related. Without change, they say the hospitals can't stay afloat.

The council voted unanimously Wednesday night to allow the hospitals to make those changes without a public vote.

The Jefferson Parish Council Chambers in Gretna were nearly packed. This would be the first time the public could speak out about the future management of East Jefferson General Hospital and West Jefferson Medical Center.

On one side, the hospital boards say it is urgent that the hospitals enter a partnership for financial reasons, leasing to an outside operator. They say this is a necessity to stay afloat and compete in the changing marketplace of lower government reimbursements.

'If we do not get a partnership system structure put together, West Jefferson and East Jefferson for that matter, will have no choice put to further cut services and lay people off,' said Nancy Cassagne, the CEO of West Jefferson Medical Center.

'If these two hospitals, two major employers, get into a downward spiral, we will only exacerbate the problem. And the challenge will be 10 fold to try and turn it around. Now that's not chicken little the sky is falling, that is reality,' said Sheriff Newell Normand, who is chairman of the East Jefferson General Hospital Board.

While several doctors, nurses and volunteers at the hospitals all spoke in favor of the partnership, the Service Employees International Union and other residents disagreed and wanted the matter to be put to a public vote.

'As I see it, we've already told you, don't mess with our hospitals. It's in the books,' said one passionate man who has lived in Jefferson Parish for decades.

'I come from under privatizing, a privatized company, I'm no longer employed at that company,' said a woman who is a member of that union.

Now that the council has voted not to put this to a public vote, East Jefferson and West Jefferson boards will meet in the coming weeks and hope to decide which of the three hospital management companies will get the lease contract. They hope to have a decision by the end of August or beginning of September.

No one from Ochsner, Children's Hospital or HCA, the three hospitals groups in the running for the lease, spoke at the council meeting. Neither hospital currently receives money from the taxpayers.

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