By T. Scott Boatright
The Lincoln Parish Police Jury approved a motion during Tuesday night’s monthly meeting regarding the Local Hospital Enhanced Medicare Reimburse program, which could lead to a new hospital eventually being built in Ruston.
“What was done in basic terms is the Police Jury approved placing an assessment on (Allegiance Health Management, which owns Northern Louisiana Medical Center), and that will allow them to seek reimbursement through the state for federal Medicaid to draw down those funds,” said Parish Administrator Doug Postel after the meeting.
And Scott Prouty, executive vice president of Allegiance Health Management, told jurors during a public comment part of the meeting that his company’s goal is to build a new hospital in Ruston to replace the current NLMC facility, or at least a big part of it.
“If you pass the tax assessment, it is not a guarantee,” Prouty said. “We’re talking about a $100 million project for the community. It’s an important part of the community, and an important part for us to get past. We continue to work to get the land. Hopefully within the next couple of weeks we’ll have that signed.
“But whether it passes or not, our goal is to build a new hospital just the same. Hopefully along (Interstate) 20. Our plan is for Ruston to become a medical hub in north Louisiana and have an in-migration of doctors and patients rather than an outward migration. But we hope it passes because that will help us a great deal.”
Prouty said Allegiance is in negotiation to purchase around 30 acres of land near the Celebrity Drive and Commerce Street area in Ruston.
“We’ve been working on that for about a year, and we’re excited about it,” Prouty said.
Prouty wasn’t sure of the specifics of what would happen to the old hospital site, which has stood since 1962, should a new facility be built.
“I believe that we’d probably like to bring that back to the Jury for consideration,” Prouty said. “Part of it we’d like to keep as part of health care services we have in that area, so maybe we could donate it back to the city or the parish and figure out what we could use it for. We wouldn’t want to leave a big, empty dinosaur of a building just sitting there empty.
“There’s a big, massive building behind Green Clinic that is part of our hospital, but the older part that has stood since 1962 does have code issues and asbestos issues. Louisiana Tech might want to use part of it. What we’d like to do is enhance the community by giving it back to the community.”
Nine voters approved the ordinance with District Four Juror TJ Cranford voting nay and District Six’s Glen Scriber abstaining while District Eight Juror Skip Russell was absent.
Jurors also approved a motion for Lincoln Builders to construct any such project.
“(Allegiance) is trying to get into a position where it can compete with a rural public hospital,” District Five Juror Logan Hunt said. “Allegiance can’t do an intergovernmental transfer to receive public dollars because it’s not a public hospital. What we are doing is creating a governmental entity that allows (Allegiance) access to federal dollars that it doesn’t have access to now.
“I will only say this — one of the worst things that could ever happen to this community would be if we were to not have a hospital. They own our hospital now. And this is going to help them keep a hospital here.”
Prouty said that he and his company believe they can build a better health care future for the area.
“We’re a local company, and I’m not doing a sales pitch,” Prouty said. “But we buy hospitals and our vision is to grow hospitals in rural areas, and this is still considered rural as the state looks at it. We want this to be a medical hub. This hospital needs to mirror the proud image of Ruston.”
“Allegiance bought this hospital two years ago. It was losing money before,” Prouty said. “Whether this passes or not we own this hospital and we’re going to continue to grow this hospital and continue to generate revenues where we can build a new hospital. We can’t build and stay there. Our plan is to move to a new hospital that will allow us to grow even more. So whether this passes and federal taxes dry up or whatever, it doesn’t change the fact that we own the hospital and will continue to grow it.”
Postel said he believes the move could get the ball rolling toward beginning to build a new hospital in the near future.
“Supposedly the money is there, this just gives (Allegiance) the opportunity to get their piece of that pie,” Postel said. “No timetable has been mentioned, but I think it’s going to be sooner than later.”