Leslie Turk

Officials: cuts spell recession for Lafayette

by Leslie Turk

Warning that proposed state budget cuts could take a $200 million toll on Lafayette’s economy and send it into a recession, health care and university officials yesterday pleaded with the Legislature to lessen the blow.

They contend that if the House of Representatives fails to support partial restoration of the proposed cuts to health care and higher education, Lafayette will likely lose about 525 direct jobs: 450 from hospitals, 53 from Acadian Ambulance and 22 jobs at UL. The Senate has already approved use of the “rainy day” (formally called the Budget Stabilization) fund to restore some of the funding.

University President Joe Savoie joined Acadian CEO Richard Zuschlag, Louisiana Hospital Association CEO John Matessino and area hospital administrators at Acadian’s headquarters to ask state legislators for a lifeline.

Officials also warned that the local economy is already being pulled down by spending cuts in the oilfield sector, a result of declines in commodities prices. “If this partial restoration of cuts to healthcare and higher ed is not adopted by the House of Representatives, healthcare and higher ed, as the remaining two pillars, will also be weakened,” the officials said in a joint press release. “In a nutshell, the combined effect is a ‘recipe for a Lafayette recession.’”

The university provides employment to nearly 2,100 people and supports another 7,783 jobs, they said, calling it the “front porch” of our city and our parish, in the area of research, athletics and academic distinction. “The 23% cuts planned for the university has an economic impact on the Lafayette economy of $186 million dollars. Additionally, having to also furlough employees and cancel programs will weaken the university’s stature, causing it to retreat from the hard earned academic progress that has been made in recent years, they argued. The officials also stated:

Lafayette is a regional medical center, and a “hospital hub” for the treatment of severe and specialized medical conditions of patients throughout all of Southwest Louisiana. The effect of these cuts, and the layoffs which will follow, will unquestionably affect the quality of patient care our facilities are able to deliver. Our ability to treat our most vulnerable among us, from children in Acadiana requiring Neo Natal Intensive Care, to our elderly, needing treatment for Cancer or Cardio Bypass surgery will be compromised.  Investments in equipment and staffing will unquestionably be affected, as over $20 million in hospital spending is sucked out of the Lafayette economy.

Lafayette is also proud to be the headquarters to the Acadian Companies, of which Acadian Ambulance holds the distinction of being the largest privately held ambulance service in the United States, an employee owned company of 2,800 individuals. Of the 9000 ambulance services in the United States, Acadian is considered, through its various awards and accreditations, to be in the top 1% of those services. The effect of these budget cuts, in addition to forcing layoffs, will impact Acadian’s ability to further invest in cutting edge technology such as LifePac 12 devices which wirelessly transmit EKG results from ambulances to hospitals, as well as impacting ambulance crew unit hours. Both of these ultimately impact the quality of patient care and patient health outcomes.

In conclusion, we know that if we retreat back to a sub-par education system, we will lose students to places such as Texas or Florida. In the same vein, if we retreat back to a sub-par healthcare system, we will lose patients to places like MD Anderson in Texas or the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. In both instances, our patients and our students will seek education and healthcare services in other states because of the weakening of the institutions which they have relied upon.

Let’s not throw Lafayette’s already fragile economy into a recession. Let’s not damage these two pillars of Lafayette’s economy- Healthcare and Higher Education - by putting over 500 people out of work. Let’s not erode the progress we as a community have made in improving healthcare and higher ed in Lafayette. We urge the House of Representatives, and in particular, the members of the Acadiana delegation to support the funding for the partial restoration of the cuts to healthcare and higher ed which the State Senate instituted.”