Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
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GRETNA, La. - It's one of the most important decisions the Jefferson Parish council has faced.

And Monday night, hundreds gathered in the government building in Gretna to make their voices heard in the debate over which group will run the parish's two public hospitals.

Each of the three finalists vying to lease the Jefferson Parish public hospitals - Louisiana Children's Medical Center, Health Corporation of America, and Ochsner Health Systems - gave 10-minute presentations.

Then a moderator randomly chose three questions for the finalists from the public.

The first had to do with how whether each contender could meet anti-trust regulations, meaning they can't limit healthy competition in a marketplace.

This has been a concern with Ochsner Health Systems, because it already runs several medical centers in Jefferson Parish. But Ochsner president and CEO Warren Thomas said the health system has hired one of the nation's top anti-trust lawyers and is confident it won't be an issue.

'In our proposal, we put if we could not get through an anti-trust review, we would write a check for $10 million dollars to east and West Jefferson as a penalty as a breakup fee,' said Thomas.

Thomas admit that HCA, which runs Tulane and Lakeside Medical Centers, will likely have the easiest time clearing an anti-trust review, but believes Children's Medical Center will also face hurdles.

Children's also runs LSU Interim Hospital, Touro Hospital and will manage the new University Medical Center. It is also forming a partnership to manage a new medical center coming to New Orleans East.

But representatives say LCMC's medical centers are set up to draw different types of patients from around the region.

'It sets up for a network geographically dispersed to compete well,' said Greg Feirn, LCMC CFO. 'Children's hospital and new University Medical Center, they are regional medical centers, they draw from all over the state.'

HCA, the only out-of-state contender, addressed another concern- the terms for the end of it's potential lease, which initially stated the parish would have to reimburse HCA for any new buildings constructed during the term of the 30 year lease.

Now, HCA has changed its tune.

'There is not going to be an expectation from HCA that the parish would need to reimburse HCA for structures or buildings constructed during the term of the agreement,' said Mel Lagarde, HCA MidAmerica executive.

The other contenders also do not require the parish to reimburse them for any new buildings.

It's no secret that Jefferson Parish's two public hospitals - West and East Jefferson - are split on which group they favor. East Jefferson General Hospital's board favors HCA. A number of West Jefferson Medical Center employees spoke out Monday in favor of LCMC, and say they're hoping the council makes a decision soon.

'Our employees have been in limbo for quite a while and it is taking its toll,' said West Jefferson Medical Center CFO Angela Greener.

The future of the Jefferson Parish public hospital system rests in the hands of the council.

But some residents say they're hoping for a bigger voice in the process. Some even called for the issue to be put on the ballot.

'The real value in these proposals is the quality of health care that's going to go on in our parish over these next 30 years,' said resident Bobby Brennan.

'I think it's important for our economy that we strengthen our local corporations, and we don't bring in an out of state corporation, give that corporation a taxpayer funded asset, and then use that asset to compete with other local corporations. I think that's vitally important,' said Harvey resident Mike Teachworth.

No word yet on when the parish council is set to vote on the matter. There will be a second meeting Dec. 17 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Yenni Building on the east bank.

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