[StBernard] St. Bernard Council moves to create new hospital board

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Sep 16 22:01:54 EDT 2008

St. Bernard Council moves to create new hospital board
by Paul Rioux, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday September 16, 2008, 5:45 PM
Addressing an ethics dispute involving a public board overseeing
construction of a hospital in St. Bernard Parish, a divided Parish Council
took the first step Tuesday toward replacing the board with a new one.

The council voted 4-2 to introduce an ordinance to create a new five-member
board charged with building a hospital to replace the one destroyed during
Hurricane Katrina.

The ordinance is set for a final vote next month, but it could be moot if
parish officials negotiate an agreement with two doctors serving on the
current board to resign amid conflict-of-interest concerns.

The controversy centers on Drs. Brian Bertucci and Paul Verrette, who work
at a temporary medical clinic in Chalmette and are employed by the
Franciscan Mission of Our Lady Health System, one of several health care
firms vying for a contract to manage the yet-to-be-built hospital.

Bertucci and Verrette have said they would recuse themselves from a vote to
award the contract. But some council members said the doctors must resign to
comply with strict ethics regulations tied to $40 million in grants for the
proposed 40-bed hospital.

Voting to introduce the ordinance to appoint a new board were council
members Ray Lauga, George Cavignac, Michael Ginart and Polly Boudreaux.
Kenny Henderson and Fred Everhardt opposed the ordinance. Councilman Frank
Auderer did not vote and declined to say why after the meeting.

Lauga, who sponsored the ordinance, said that if the Franciscan Mission gets
the hospital contract while Bertucci and Verrette are on the board, the
firms that were not chosen could file a lawsuit.

"Everybody I've talked to who has a legal background said this would be an
open-and-shut case," he said. "I don't want our hospital project to get tied
up in the courts."

Bertucci has dismissed the ethics dispute as "smoke and mirrors" to conceal
favoritism for the Ochsner Health System, one of up to four firms expected
to submit a hospital management proposal by the Sept. 25 deadline.

"Creating a whole new board is foolish," Bertucci said after the meeting.
"It would cause delays, it's divisive and it fragments the community. It's a
slap in the face, quite frankly."

Verrette suffered an apparent heart attack after leaving the meeting before
the discussion about the hospital board, Bertucci said.

"He left to get some nitroglycerin and had a heart attack," said Bertucci,
who said Verrette was being treated at Tulane University Hospital. "They put
a stent in and he's doing OK."

Tensions have risen in recent months with parish residents voicing
frustration that three years after Katrina destroyed the privately-owned
Chalmette Medical Center, a new hospital is still three years away.

Bertucci said he has told Parish President Craig Taffaro he would resign if
Taffaro signed an agreement releasing $25 million in Katrina-related state
redevelopment grants to the hospital board.

Taffaro said he would not sign over the money until he has resignations from
both doctors in hand.

Bertucci said he would settle for sitting down with Taffaro and signing the
documents simultaneously.

"Unfortunately, the level of trust hasn't always been where we all would
want it to be," Bertucci said.

More information about the StBernard mailing list