Heath Hoffpauir, chairman for the St. Mary Parish Hospital Service District 2 board, speaks during Tuesday's special meeting. At left is board attorney Nicholas LaRocca. (The Daily Review/Zachary Fitzgerald)

Ochsner picked to operate Teche Regional Medical Center

Board authorizes negotiations for interim agreement, long-term lease

Ochsner Health System is slated to become the new operator of Teche Regional Medical Center in Morgan City at the start of 2019.

The St. Mary Parish Hospital Service District 2 Board held a special meeting Tuesday at the Morgan City Court Building.

Board members voted 6-0 to allow the district to exclusively negotiate with Ochsner Health System on an interim management agreement and long-term lease to operate Teche Regional Medical Center. Ochsner operates 13 other medical facilities in Louisiana, its website shows.

The district had released the names of three potential operators Friday. Those were Ochsner, LCMC Health and Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady of Health System.

Hospital staff and community members have expressed concerns during the past month about Teche Regional Medical Center's future after learning that the hospital service district and current operator, LifePoint Health, had preliminarily agreed to end LifePoint's lease to operate the hospital effective Dec. 31.

The board plans to complete both the interim management agreement and long-term lease with Ochsner before Dec. 31, Board Chairman Heath Hoffpauir said.

"Everybody can feel relieved," Hoffpauir said. "We've been excited. We've been working on this for a long time. Now we can finish the deal, save the hospital."

Board members can negotiate employee benefits and address everyone's concerns, he said.

"We're on the right track, and we feel really good about this," Hoffpauir said.

The board plans to send out a news release within the next couple of days with more details on the matter.

Also at the meeting, the board appointed Hoffpauir and board member Bill McCarty to a committee to work with legal counsel to negotiate an agreement with Ochsner.

During a roughly 50-minute executive session preceding the votes, the board, legal counsel, an advisory committee to the board, parish council members and the parish president privately discussed strategic planning regarding the termination of the LifePoint lease agreement and the selection of an operator to replace LifePoint.

Teche Regional CEO Aphreikah DuHaney-West, who's on the advisory committee, said she was "extremely satisfied" with discussions during the executive session.

Ochsner has a "great reputation," and DuHaney-West is glad "a company like Ochsner is interested in our community," she said.

Dr. Tomas Birriel, a former hospital service district board member, spoke favorably Tuesday of the board's recent actions.

"The steps that you've taken since the last meeting here have been more than you've taken in weeks or months, so I have to congratulate you on that," Birriel said.

"Please, continue what you're doing right now that you started in the last couple of weeks or so, so that way we can have success," Birriel said.

The board met Oct. 3 for its regular monthly meeting and appointed an advisory committee to help in the transition to a new operator.

Tuesday's decision came shortly after one of the board members resigned. Former board member Dr. Natchez "Trey" Morice submitted his resignation from the board Friday to the parish council. He cited his reason for resigning was to focus on his campaign for St. Mary Parish coroner.

LifePoint, a Tennessee-based company, has operated Teche Regional since 2005 after LifePoint merged with Province Healthcare, which had entered into an agreement in 2001 to lease the hospital for 40 years, according to the hospital's website. In April, Scott Smith, Louisiana market CEO for LifePoint, said that the company had divested itself of three of the four hospitals it operated in Louisiana, but hadn't yet made a decision on Teche Regional Medical Center.

However, Smith also said in April that LifePoint was in talks to possibly transfer operation of the hospital to another company. Then, in August, LifePoint announced its plans to merge with RCCH HealthCare Partners but keep the LifePoint name.

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