News Briefs

Local doctors to buy Heart Hospital, remembering Cecil J. Picard and more


Widespread speculation in health care circles of a potential takeover of Heart Hospital of Lafayette by the physicians' group that founded it in early 2004 was confirmed last week with an announcement by the docs' partners, MedCath Corp. of Charlotte, N.C.

Though it did not disclose terms of the deal, MedCath Corp. says the two parties have signed a letter of intent in which the local physicians, who currently own 49 percent of the hospital, will own 100 percent of it. Pending a definitive agreement and satisfaction of other conditions, the terms of the transaction will be disclosed ' in about 90 days.

Heart Hospital of Lafayette serves patients suffering from cardiovascular disease. The 32-bed hospital has two operating suites, two heart catheterization labs and an 11-bed heart emergency department. MedCath, which has interest in 11 hospitals, focuses primarily on the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease.

In September MedCath finalized the sale of its interest in Tucson Heart Hospital to Carondelet Health Network. Carondelet acquired MedCath's 59 percent stake in that facility for $40.7 million. ' Nathan Stubbs

CECIL PICARD, 1938 ' 2007

Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cecil J. Picard (pictured above) died on Thursday, Feb. 15, after what his son, Tyron, called "a mighty fight against a heartbreaking disease." A Maurice native, Picard had been battling the debilitating disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

In a press release issued by the Louisiana Department of Education, Tyron stated on behalf of the Picard family: "In his final days he was surrounded by our family and his closest friends who all knew of his love for the state of Louisiana and especially its children."

Picard was 69 years old. ' R. Reese Fuller


Former Sen. John Breaux, whose name continues to be bandied about as a possible candidate in this year's governor's race, has just signed on to join the board of directors of Lafayette-based LHC Group. LHC, which began as a small homegrown business in Palmetto in 1994, is now one of the largest home-health based providers in rural areas across the South.

Since leaving Congress in 2004, Breaux has been working with the Washington lobbying firm Patton Boggs. While in the U.S. Senate, he was a leading authority on health care policy, chairing National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare in 1998. More recently, he has become a leading proponent for reforming Louisiana's public health care system. Breaux fills the vacancy created by LHC board member Patrick Mulloy's resignation last year. ' NS


On Valentine's Day, downtown hot-sausage vendor Faramarz "Frankie" Yaghobi (above) and partner J.T. Hammid opened their new business, Frankie's Convenience Store. The long-awaited shop offers basic items like soft drinks, chips, fresh fruit, beer, boudin and freshly-made sandwiches. There will be some inside seating, but the real gathering spot is a back patio with fountain, lounge chairs and benches. (Frankie continues to serve burgers, hot sausages and Frito-pies from his small mobile kitchen parked in an adjacent private lot on Jefferson Street.) The pair encourage patrons to pick up a Frankie burger, walk down to the convenience store for a beer and enjoy dinner on the patio without drawing attention from the police, who discourage loitering on the sidewalk on Saturday nights. Frankie's Convenience Store hours are 10 a.m. to 3 a.m., Monday through Saturday. Frankie Burger opens from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Call 237-0897 for more info. ' Mary Tutwiler


Loren Scott (left) says recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast is a mixed bag. The LSU professor emeritus of economics says areas like Lake Charles, Pascagoula and Biloxi-Gulfport are bouncing back, but recovery in New Orleans is slow.

Industry and manufacturing are recovering quicker than small businesses, and Scott points to major construction projects in New Orleans, underway and in the planning stages, that could lead to long-term recovery.

Scott's 120-page report, "Advancing in the Aftermath IV: Tracking the Recovery from Katrina and Rita," is Scott's fourth and final installment of a study to provide benchmarks for the recovery of the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast. ' RRF


The House of Representatives heard testimony last week from Louisiana small-business owners still struggling to get hurricane-related loans processed from the Small Business Administration. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that 125,000 businesses were disrupted by Rita and Katrina for weeks or months after the 2005 hurricanes. The Times-Picayune reported that in the case of Donna and Matt Colosino, the SBA has only paid $10,000 out of a $250,000 loan that was approved a year ago, and the SBA has lost the Colosinos' documents multiple times. Sen. Mary Landrieu and members of the Louisiana congressional delegation are among lawmakers pushing for legislative action ' including private sector support, low-interest loans and loan extensions ' to correct such problems. ' Scott Jordan


In the immediate aftermath of last week's severe weather that spawned a number of tornadoes, United Way of Acadiana and the Acadiana Chapter of the American Red Cross held a Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster briefing last Wednesday to address the needs of local residents in the storm's path. The Red Cross facilitated the briefing.

Last Tuesday's weather damaged homes and businesses throughout Acadiana, including the cities of Breaux Bridge, New Iberia and Parks. While a disaster has not yet been declared, VOAD plans to help organize resources, volunteers and recovery efforts. Individuals or groups interested in becoming disaster volunteers can register online at or call (337) 706-1234 for more info. ' Leslie Turk


A strongly worded editorial in The New York Times last week called on President George W. Bush to waive the requirement for Gulf coast states to match federal rebuilding funds ' a request Gov. Kathleen Blanco has been making since September 2005. Since 1985, the requirement for these local matching funds, known as the Stafford Act, has been waived 32 times for hurricanes and other disasters that caused significantly less damage than Katrina and Rita. The paper states the act was waived following Sept. 11, a disaster estimated to cost about $390 per New Yorker, and after Hurricane Andrew, when damage was $139 per Floridian. The Times wrote:

"Yet somehow the Bush administration has not found it necessary to forgive the local match for Gulf Coast states after the double-whammy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, except for costs associated with debris removal and some emergency services ' despite the fact that the two storms wreaked roughly $6,700 worth of damage per capita in Louisiana. This inaction is particularly surprising, given that such a large proportion of the damage can be attributed to the failure of the federal levees that were supposed to protect the New Orleans area."

The editorial concluded:

"Last week a group of Democratic senators led by Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, sent a letter urging President Bush to make this change, however belatedly. They called that step 'not only prudent, but vital to the recovery.'

"We agree. And if President Bush won't do it, Congress should legislate the change." ' NS


"I wanted to talk to you about what happened at the board meeting this week. ..." Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent James Easton gets right to the point in his latest letter to the school system and the public. Easton's angry about being removed from the board table at the school board meetings.

The letter reads, in part, "I will not stop saying what I believe to be the truth. I will not cease doing what I believe to be the right thing. I'm not a child, I'm not a boy. I'm an adult human being and can't be threatened or cowed or humiliated into shutting my mouth when it comes to the children of my community."

Read the entire letter at ' R. Reese Fuller


The images and stories from the tornadoes that plowed through Acadiana and New Orleans last week provided more images and stories of south Louisiana homes and lives tossed around like toothpicks. Local attention is sharply focused on the tornadoes' aftermath right now, but the story will inevitably fade from the forefront of the public's attention.

So how can the media effectively continue to tell a story after the initial impact?

CNN's Soledad O'Brien may found a novel way to bring citizen journalism to the forefront of the national news ' and with fresh sets of eyes. In order to keep the national attention on New Orleans' recovery from Hurricane Katrina, O'Brien is enlisting the help of the city's youth and filmmaker Spike Lee. O'Brien has handed out DV cameras to New Orleans teenagers still living with the effects of Katrina, so they can tell their own stories. For future air times of these stories, see O'Brien's "American Morning" page at ' R. Reese Fuller


The Democratic Policy Committee, an arm of the national party, released a report last week detailing how President Bush's developing budget would impact rural Louisiana. The Democrats claim Bush is pushing an agenda that favors white-collar pockets and punishes farmers and mom-and-pop businesses. "President Bush and his spin doctors are trying to justify his tax cuts at the expense of rural Louisianans," says Louisiana Democratic Party Chairman Chris Whittington. "Several of these initiatives on the chopping block are critical to [their] well-being."

In addition to overseeing a few details being released in the new Farm Bill, Bush is pushing to cut $1.4 billion from various local law enforcement programs and $146 million from rural health programs. His budget would also slash funding for economic development initiatives specifically benefiting communities of 3,000 or fewer residents. "Republicans should join Democrats in combating this reckless and irresponsible assault on rural Americans and work to craft a budget that builds up all working families," Whittington says. ' Jeremy Alford


The March/April issue of American Photo magazine, which hit newsstands this week, names Crowley native Denis Reggie (left) one of the "Top 10 Wedding Photographers in the World." Reggie is actually listed first, alongside an image he took of the Maria Shriver/Arnold Schwarzenegger wedding. (There's a family connection to the image ' Reggie's sister, Victoria, is married to U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, Maria's uncle.)

Reggie moved to Lafayette from Crowley in 1980 and began pioneering a documentary style of photography he calls "wedding photojournalism." He relocated to Atlanta in 1986, and he and his team of photographers have covered more than 1,700 weddings in this documentary style, which captures the event without posing or prompting.

Reggie, who continues to shoot weddings in his native Acadiana, has just returned from Washington, D.C., where he photographed the wedding of Chris Heinz and Sasha Lewis. Chris is Teresa Heinz Kerry's son and U.S. Sen. John Kerry's stepson. Though his list of clients reads like a Who's Who of celebrities and public figures (Oprah Winfrey called him "the best in the business"), Reggie says such high profile clients are only a small part of his portfolio.

Two years ago Reggie was featured in a BBC documentary that followed the world's top five wedding photographers on wedding assignments. ' LT


What would life be like if state government were run by a female majority, rather than the other way around? Louisiana isn't far off. Arguably the two top political positions in the state are already held by Democratic women ' Gov. Kathleen Blanco and senior U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

When Blanco was elected the first female governor in state history in 2003, a special conference dubbed "Louisiana's Women Leaders" was quickly initiated. The conference is coming back to Baton Rouge the second weekend of March, and it boasts several unique offerings, such as a theatrical showcase of historical women from the 18th to the mid-20th centuries. Expect many of the same issues, however, you might find at any testosterone-filled political gathering: economics, employment, education, training, health and safety. The major difference might be found in how the fairer sex approaches those issues. "Women's issues are people's issues," says Phyllis E. Mayo, the governor's advisor on women's policy. "When we gather, I am always amazed how quickly we can find common ground." ' JA


Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel's third annual State of the City-Parish Address, which was given Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007, will air on the Acadiana Open Channel on the following dates:

8 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, Channel 15

5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26, Channel 16

7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28, Channel 16 ' NS