State budget cuts could gut UMC programs

by Heather Miller

According to a 2009 economic impact study from the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, the local charity hospital sees more than 200,000 patients a year and provides medical education, including residencies, to more than 500 health care professionals annually.

Labor and delivery and the ear, nose and throat clinic at University Medical Center are among some of the most critical services on the chopping block at UMC due to mid-year state budget cuts that leave doctors and hospital staffers in limbo about impending layoffs and program closures planned for March.

The Advertiser reports that the local charity hospital, if forced to eat its share of $29 million in mid-year budget cuts to the LSU Health System, could be forced to lay off 80 to 100 of its more than 900 employees and completely eliminate obstetricians, its neonatal ICU unit, its ophthalmology department and ENT services.

Citing his concerns about the potential program cuts, Dr. Duncan Hanby, whose wife runs the UMC ENT clinic three days per week, says the ENT clinic at UMC sees between 80 and 130 patients on a daily basis, many of whom have "head and neck cancer and other high acuity problems."

"The vast majority of these patients have difficulty with transportation to UMC, much less another facility that would be hours away," Hanby says.  "These people will quite literally have no where else to go."

Hospital Administrator Larry Dorsey tells the daily that the potential loss of hospital training programs, which according to the Lafayette Economic Development Authority provide education to more than 500 health care professionals a year, could impact the hospital's accreditation process.

As The Advocate points out, the Jindal administration failed to inform the legislative budget committees about impending hospital cuts and layoffs when presenting the $251 million mid-year budget deficit last month, despite being directly asked about the status of hospitals:

State Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, specifically asked about the impact on the LSU hospitals and was told by administration officials that the hospitals would get their budgeted amount.

According to a 2009 economic impact study done by LEDA, UMC is the 11th largest employer in Lafayette Parish, sees more than 200,000 patients every year and has a total economic impact of more than $255 million in Acadiana.

Also noted by LEDA is that UMC siphons only $6 million a year from the state's general fund, in large part thanks to a 70-30 match in federal-to-state funding.

"University Medical Center provides easy access to persons who may not otherwise be eligible for medical care," the LEDA study says. "There are no income thresholds to prevent patients from receiving care. The accessibility of [UMC] to patients of all income levels and local residencies makes it truly an asset to the community."

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