In The News › Jefferson Parish just received $200 million; what happens now?

Jefferson Parish just received $200 million; what happens now?

By Diana Samuels

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

October 1, 2015

Jefferson Parish just got a big wad of cash, $200 million from LCMC Health to lease West Jefferson Medical Center for 45 years. That’s enough to operate parish government for more than five months.

So what happens to that money now? Nothing — at least for a while. The money will wait in the bank, drawing interest, until the Parish Council decides what to do with it, said deputy parish attorney Ed Rapier.

Because the money derives from the Marrero hospital’s special taxing district, it may be used only for health care in West Jefferson. But what exactly “health care” means could end up being a matter of debate.

The council delved into this issue a year ago when it approved a ballot measure asking voters to lock up any lease proceeds from West Jefferson Medical Center or East Jefferson General Hospital. That measure would have let the council spend only 80 percent of the interest from the lease proceeds, and none of the principal. The rest of the money would have been locked away in a special trust fund.

Some observers, including the Bureau of Governmental Research, said the proposition was too restrictive. It ultimately failed at the polls, receiving only 47 percent of the vote.

During the discussion over that ballot measure, however, it was clear that the question of what counts as “health care” could be a point of contention. Could the money be used to improve Jefferson’s water system, for example? Or roads providing access to a hospital?

Councilman Chris Roberts said Thursday (Oct. 1) that those questions likely will end up being answered by lawyers, with the involvement of the Louisiana attorney general’s office. “I don’t see any rush” to spend the money, Roberts said. “It needs to be a very diligent process and needs to make sure that it follows the letter of the law.”

Plus it’s an election month. That’s not the best time to develop a comprehensive, well thought-out approach to spending the money, said Roberts, who faces two challengers on the Oct. 24 ballot.

When it does come time to make a decision, Roberts said he has no desire to spend the $200 million, only the interest. “I think anything related to health care that has merit is going to be considered, but considering the lease just closed, for us to be speculating on what we’re going to spend the money on is premature, in my opinion,” he said.

Councilman Ben Zahn said the council needs much more time to decide on spending priorities. He said he expects it will take at least three years to resolve all the leftover costs from West Jefferson Medical Center, such as liability from lingering medical malpractice lawsuits. He wouldn’t want to see any “significant disbursement” of the money before then.

“However, I would certainly support using the interest received on the funds for specific medical-related issues, provided they meet the restrictions contained in the agreement,” he said.

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