Local medical training programs brace for more painful cuts

Local medical training programs brace for more painful cuts

People educating future doctors, nurses in the city, and other medical professionals brace for more possible funding cuts amid state government's budget crisis.

"It's estimated that for the Health Sciences Center it might be as much as $13 million, which would have a significant impact on our ability to train the next generation of physicians for this state," said Dr. Steve Nelson, dean of the School of Medicine within the LSU Health Sciences Center, which is also called LSU Health.

He said with more people getting health insurance more doctors are needed, not fewer.

"Many people aren't aware that 70 percent of the doctors in this state actually trained at an LSU facility, so there's only a certain amount of cuts that you can sustain and as you are well aware we sustained over the past several years, but now I think we've reached a critical point where more cuts would severely adversely affect our ability to train doctors," Nelson stated.

For the fiscal year that ends June 30, the state has a $750 million money shortfall, but some state lawmakers oppose raising taxes and point to higher education as an area where more saving may be found.

Given that, the LSU system braces for more fiscal pain and has prepared scenarios for more reductions including staffing and eliminating some undergraduate programs like the B.S. in Nursing.

"In terms of the nursing school, certain programs. Certain programs in Allied Health, and would potentially affect the medical school as well, in terms of our class size and other things," said Nelson.

And on top of the current budget problem, there is a $1.9 billion money shortfall for the budget year that starts July 1 which could create more money headaches for medical education and higher education in general.

State Senator Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, met this week with the chancellor of the LSU Health Sciences Center and others.

"The idea that we would eliminate that program, particularly a program that is as popular and as necessary as a bachelor's program in nursing with the need of nurses being as great as it is unfortunate, I have five universities in my district," he said.

State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans is in fight mode as she works to protect institutions of higher education from more deep cuts.

"That's something that I'm certainly going to fight tooth and nail to make sure doesn't happen," said Moreno.

And even before the new billion dollar University Medical Center was completed in New Orleans there was a lot of talk about how it could help to attract more top-notch medical professionals and scientists to this area. But now the latest threat of more funding cuts that would impact medical education having some fearing that such efforts could suffer.

"Why spend the kind of money we've spent over the last four years to build UMC then to go and fight to get the $90 million dollars to fund it and get it started and now to cut the very programs that those monies allowed to come to be, that doesn't make any sense," said Sen. Bishop.

"If the word gets out that we are shutting down all of these medical programs in New Orleans, well the outcome for UMC is going to be incredibly tragic," Moreno said.

A special legislative session that begins this month will determine whether taxes will be raised to stave off more cuts to the state funded higher education system.

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