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Hospital operator says state budget could be a matter of life and death

"The house passed a budget that was absolutely catastrophic for healthcare. Not a single partner hospital, not the one in New Orleans or anywhere else in the state of Louisiana will keep it's door open."

NEW ORLEANS -- University Medical Center doctors and administrators are warning the safety-net hospital in New Orleans may close if Louisiana lawmakers don't fully fund healthcare.

"This is an urgent matter," UMC CEO Bill Masterton said. "It's not a game. We need everyone to come together (and pass) a budget that fully funds University Medical Center."

Thursday, LCMC-Health, the private operator that runs the public hospital launched #UMCisVital, a PR campaign to urge the legislature to save UMC.

"The difference in care we can provide to our patients at the Trauma Center distinguishes who lives and who may not live," UMC Chief Medical Officer Peter DeBlieux said.

State Lawmakers are holding a special legislative session to grapple with a budget that some say threatens to gut public healthcare, shutter LSU's two medical schools and close hospitals.

One UMC patient from the Westbank told WWL-TV families like hers depend on the partner hospital for quality healthcare.

"Look at all the money they would lose that they put into this facility," the patient said. "That wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to me to shut it down."

Temporary sales taxes are set to expire July 1, the start of the new state budget year.

Governor John Bel Edwards is asking lawmakers to renew a portion of those taxes to help offset an estimated $648-million budget gap.

"Unless we fix the cliff, the budget will be catastrophic for health care and higher education," Edwards said. "The house passed a budget that was absolutely catastrophic for healthcare. Not a single partner hospital, not the one in New Orleans or anywhere else in the state of Louisiana will keep it's door open."

House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry accuses the governor of using scare tactics.

Henry notes the final budget approved during the regular session then vetoed by the governor, fully funded the Department of Health.

It also cut higher education by about 10 percent.

"As a body, we don't know where the governor's priority is as it relates to those (healthcare) services," Henry, R-Metairie, said. "I think the legislature has expressed their's by fully funding them. I think the governor has made them less of a priority now."

Thursday, a house committee began discussions on several bills that would keep a portion of the temporary sales taxes in place.

One proposal by Rep Pat Connick-Marrero, would renew and make permanent half of those taxes, raising about $450 million.