LPPJ votes to stay the course with ongoing ‘Health Hub’ plans

By T. Scott Boatright

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury moved to continue forward with plans already in place to construct a “Health Hub” while also setting dates for 2023 LPPJ meetings during roll call voting during a special meeting held Tuesday night  in the LPPJ Room at the Lincoln Parish Courthouse.

A contract to move forward with plans to construct a “Health Hub,” which would include the Lincoln Parish Health Unit, the Health Hut and the H.E.L.P.  (Humanitarian Enterprises of Lincoln Parish) Agency was approved by the LPPJ earlier this year during its March meeting.

That contract approved having the Riley Company of Louisiana to provide surveying and engineering services in order to prepare the site for construction for a budget under $40,000. Plans for the “Health Hub” are being designed by Ruston architect Mike Walpole.

During Tuesday’s meeting Parish Administrator Doug Postel told jurors that the LPPJ had been approached by Allegiance Health Management, which owns Northern Louisiana Medical Center (NLMC), about possibly opening discussions for the LPPJ to make an offer on one of the MLNC buildings once Allegiance builds a new hospital north of Interstate 20, which the corporation has indicated it plans to do.

Postel said Allegiance officials told him the corporation plans to have a new hospital in operation in about four years.

That resulted in a lengthy discussion among jurors about the pros and cons of considering such a potential offer.

Juror Logan Hunt expressed a desire to enter into discussions with Allegiance about such a hypothetical  offer, saying that should  a potential deal for one of the newer buildings (the older, main NLMC building was constructed with asbestos, which is one of the reasons Allegiance wants to make a move) be significantly lower than the $9 million the LPPJ has in place for its planned “Health Hub,” then any leftover funding could be diverted to other key uses, including upgrading the Lincoln Parish Fire Protection District.

But other jurors bristled at the notion of considering changing direction of the planned “Health Hub” at this point in time.

Health and Welfare Committee chair Annette Straughter was one of those jurors.

“Yes, to get the (NLMC outpatient) Surgical Center for $100,000 would be amazing if we could get that … but there’s no way we’re going to get that when  it’s worth probably 20 times that,” Straughter said. “I think we need to move forward with our plans. Our citizens deserve, not need, deserve,  to have an updated facility that can meet all of their needs.

“We really need to move forward with this. Nobody is saying no to accept the hospital. I am not saying no to accepting the surgical center. We are saying yes, let’s keep moving forward with our plans.”

A motion to continue forward with existing plans was approved 9-2 (juror Skip Russell left the meeting before the voting began) with Theresa Wyatt, Hazel Hunter, Richard Durrett, TJ Canfrord, Glenn Scriber, Joe Henderson, Milton Melton, Sharyon Mayfield and Straughter voting in favor of that motion with Hunt and Matt Pullen being the no votes.

Earlier in the meeting, another longer discussion occurred when voting on LPPJ meeting dates for 2023. LPPJ meetings have long been held on the second Tuesday of every month, but Postel said that some LPPJ staff members had expressed a desire to have the meeting dates in March and October of 2023 moved back a week because Lincoln Parish Schools will be out during the second week of those two months.

“The reason I’m bringing this up is because the majority of the Police Jury staff have school-age children,” Postel said. “For us to do without staff on a meeting week is complicated. We can do it, but it’s complicated. I contacted the school board, and they changed their meetings from the week that schools will be out, so this would not be something we’re doing on our own but something other agencies are doing as well.”

In the end, jurors voted 8-4 to continue holding its regular meetings at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month in 2023, with Wyatt, Hunter, Durrett, Russell, Henderson, Melton, Mayfield and Slaughter voting to keep things the same while Cranford, Hunt, Pullen and Scriber unsuccessfully voted in favor of allowing the proposed March and October changes.