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West Jeff Hospital can begin lease negotiations; EJ in limbo

ELMWOOD, LA (WVUE)—West Jefferson Medical Center received the go-ahead Wednesday to begin lease negotiations with LCMC Health to run the hospital.

But East Jefferson, the other Jefferson Parish owned hospital remains in limbo in terms of a prospective lease partner after Ochsner suddenly pulled its bid to run EJ.

The Jefferson Parish council's agenda called for a vote on which suitor both of the hospitals favored as a lease partner.

But an hour before the meeting started, Ochsner announced that it was yanking its proposal to manage East Jefferson. Last week, it was revealed that Ochsner had also removed its bid to run West Jefferson.

"This is another curve ball, obviously another delay," said Sheriff Newell Normand, who is chairman of the East Jefferson Hospital Board.

All along East Jefferson has wanted the national hospital company, HCA, to operate the medical facility. But weeks ago HCA withdrew its bid, citing the protracted political process of selecting among the contenders.

"Since Ochsner now has backed out we're almost back to square one," Parish Council Chairman Elton Lagasse.

Lagasse's comments relate to East Jefferson Hospital. West Jefferson had always maintained that it wanted LCMC Health, previously called Louisiana Children's Medical Center to serve as its lease partner.

Ochsner's pullout comes exactly a week after the parish's hospital lease consultant, Joshua Nemzoff, issued a report to the council which ranked Ochsner's credit strength as marginal.

On Wednesday, Ochsner, however, cited other reasons for its decision to leave the lease process.

"After careful consideration, Ochsner Health System has made the decision to withdraw from the process to select a partner to lease East Jefferson General Hospital (EJGH). We recognize how important this selection process is to the Parish Council and citizens of Jefferson Parish, however, Ochsner feels that this decision is in the best interest of our patients, caregivers and employees.

As we consider strategic opportunities, our goal is to work with those who are fully aligned on key criteria including strategy, cultural fit, and commitment to a common vision. Despite the dedicated efforts of all parties involved, we have determined that this alignment simply does not exist.

We remain focused on serving our patients in our communities with the highest quality of care and Ochsner is committed to our region's future as a healthcare destination," said Ochsner Health System President and CEO Warner Thomas, in a prepared statement sent to news media outlets."

"That particular option was going to present challenges for both parties," said Normand.

Normand said such hospital deals are complicated to achieve, so he is not shocked at Ochsner's decision to leave the process.

"There are many interests that have to be served throughout this process, so I'm not surprised at all," he said.

Without debate the parish council approved West Jefferson's recommendation to partner with LCMC Health, a move that allows lease negotiations to begin.

"We, today, are looking forward to working with West Jefferson, and over time we'll see how that may, or may not involve East Jefferson," said Brian Landry, a spokesman for LCMC Health.

Landry said the negotiations for a multi-decade lease of West Jefferson could take six months or longer.

LCMC still has a proposal for leasing East Jefferson, but the parish's hospital lease consultant said the company cannot afford the money it will take to lease East and West Jefferson.

"East Jefferson Hospital is not in a panic mode," Normand said.

Normand told news reporters outside of the meeting that two national companies have expressed some interest in leasing East Jefferson Hospital.

"We will evaluate those options as we move forward and it's nothing more than an expression, it's a place to start," Normand said.

Normand said it is also not out of the realm of possibility that HCA or Ochsner could return to the building process.

"There's a possibility that either HCA, or Ochsner could decide in six months they come back, you know once the dust has settled," Normand said.

Normand also said the East Jefferson Board will use the services of consultant Joshua Nemzoff as it moves forward to find a suitable lease partner.

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