UMC warns of dire consequences if it isn't fully funded; begins media campaign

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - University Medical Center warned of crippling consequences if the hospital faces deep funding cuts, and it's urging the entire community to lobby state lawmakers.

"The state budget crisis and the fiscal cliff threatens to decimate University Medical Center," said UMC President and CEO Bill Masterton as he was flanked by a group of doctors, medical staffers and business community representatives.

They wanted to send a strong message to the state Legislature.

"The difference in care that we can provide to our patients at the Trauma Center distinguishes who lives and who may not live," said UMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Peter DeBlieux.

"I packed my bags and I moved down here from New Jersey. I knew the value of the education and experience I was going to get from doing a residency down here," said Dr. Brianna Wapples, a resident at the hospital.

UMC fears deep funding cuts if the Legislature fails to solve the budget crisis during the ongoing special session. A billion dollars in temporary taxes will expire June 30, and there is a nearly $700 million shortfall in the budget that takes effect July 1.

UMC has launched the #UMCisVital media campaign to drive home its message.

"We provide meaningful work for over 2,400 of neighbors right here in our community," said one of the TV ads.

There is also an open letter to state lawmakers from medical professionals and city officials that will appear in Sunday's newspaper.

"We need to work now to fully fund University Medical Center. That's the bottom line," said Masterton.

He would not talk about possible layoffs at the hospital even though another state hospital has already sent out layoffs notices over the budget crisis.

"We have a deep commitment and obligation to our employees, and that's why we we're not making rash decisions," said Masterton.

In March, LCMC Health, the company that runs UMC for the state, sent Gov. John Bel Edwards a letter threatening to walk away from its agreement to operate UMC if adequate funding is not in place July 1, when the new budget year begins.

Masterton was asked if that was still on the table.

"We're not making any commitments right now except that we're going to work very hard to protect our mission, to protect our patients and our employees," he said.

LSU Health New Orleans' medical school, which provides doctors for UMC, is seeing and hearing firsthand how all of the uncertainty is affecting recruiting efforts.

"Yesterday I was trying to recruit a physician from another medical center. He asked me the same question, and I said I was confident again that this would get worked out, that the state would not allow this facility to close," said Dr. Steve Nelson, dean of LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine.

But not everyone seems convinced the budget crisis will not affect health care funding.

"In 2012, 64% of our students decided to stay in the state of Louisiana to train. This past year, only 46% decided to stay. That's a drop of 18%. So even the discussion about cutting funding caused a great deal of concern among the students," said Nelson.

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