Louisiana's House-passed budget, now pending action in the Senate gives the University Medical Center in New Orleans only a fraction of the funding the hospital's private operator LCMC Health says it needs to keep the doors open.
Speaking at a public hospital in Lafayette on Thursday, Governor John Bel Edwards admitted all 9 of the state's safety net hospitals including UMC are in now in danger of closing.
"There is not a single partner hospital in the state of Louisiana that is funded, that we will be able to keep in operation, under this budget," Edwards said.
Under that scenario -- the LSU medical schools in Shreveport and New Orleans would also close.
"We need the hospitals in order to train our medical students and to train our residents," LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine Dean Dr. Steve Nelson said. "Without the hospitals we don't exist."
The current budget proposal calls for more than $640 million in cuts, mostly to health care programs.
Dr. Nelson admits he is losing students, faculty and researchers because of budget concerns.
"They want to stay here, but if they're not certain about their economic future, they're not going to stay because they have choices," Nelson said. "They can go other places."
Med student Hayes Patrick from Baton Rouge said talk about closures is pretty scary.
"This is my third year in medical school and this is the third year we've heard about this kind of stuff going on," Patrick said.
Patrick said he feels like his school and the state's public hospitals are political pawns in the budget debate.
"It's a state-funded hospital and it needs the money to keep running for the patients," Patrick said. "There are a lot of sick people in there who need help."
Dr. Nelson maintains everyone in Louisiana should be concerned.
"Remember that 70 percent of the physicians in this state are trained by LSU," Nelson said. "That's also true for dentists. LSU provides the healthcare workforce for the state of Louisiana. So, this impacts you."
In the meantime, Governor Edwards is expected to veto the current budget bill if it reaches his desk.
"This House Bill 1, that exists today in the state legislature will not be the appropriations instrument that will guide our government in the next fiscal year," Edwards said. "That will not happen."
The question in Baton Rouge is will lawmakers agree to keep a portion of the temporary taxes, set to roll off the books at the end of June to offset deep cuts to health care.
The governor is urging lawmakers to do just that during a special session later this month.