BATON ROUGE, LA (NBC33) — The board of LSU's hospital system solved a large budget deficit Thursday, but at the expense of hundreds of local employees.
LSU Health Care Services Division had to close a $85 million shortfall caused by a lack of federal funding.
The plan calls for 1,481 jobs to be eliminated statewide, a reduction of 24 percent.
The layoffs would be more severe in Baton Rouge, where 341 people would be let go from Earl K. Long Hospital, more than a third of its staff.
LSU health said it prefers to shrink each hospital in its system rather than close any of them.
It's leaders took its new budget to a meeting of the state Joint Health and Welfare Committee after it was drafted. Many of the committee's members, though, were frustrated to hear about the drastic cutbacks.
"It's a question of who dies and who lives, of who suffers and who doesn't suffer," said Senator Ben Nevers.
Some of the services the hospital provides would be shifted over to other hospitals, including a partnership between Earl K. Long and Mary Bird Perkins to cover its oncology patients. But until those arrangements are finalized, local doctors and nurses can only wonder if they'll still have places to work.
"And to give them a few days' notice, even a month's notice, and to keep their lives in a turmoil over the last few months is almost criminal," Senator Nevers said.
Lawmakers were angry that they had not been included in the process.
"The worst thing we can do in a democracy," said Senator John Alario, "is keep secrets amongst each other when we've got a common problem. We're all paddling this boat together."
LSU says the state is eleventh best in the country in terms of funding for public hospitals, but near the bottom of the rankings for quality of care. So its leaders say they understand that eliminating so many jobs, while improving care, is a tough claim to make.
"I put myself on notice," said Dr. Frank Opelka, the head of LSU's hospital system, "and I put us all on notice as we do this together. This is tough."
"We have a legal and financial responsibility not to deficit spend," said Dr. William Jenkins, interim president of the LSU system. "So we are bound by that."
LSU Health says it will need at least three months, and potentially into the summer, to implement all the changes.