the chokehold

PBJ’s executive order on January 15, 2008 implementing a hiring freeze is affecting health care in this state.

BATON ROUGE — The Charity Hospital System has raised an alarm that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s state government hiring freeze is impairing its effort to fill vacancies for more than 100 registered nurses and 200 other jobs in New Orleans to rebuild the public health care system after Hurricane Katrina.

A top Jindal administration official said she is waiting for the hospital system to provide evidence of its critical job needs before granting any exemptions to the freeze.

With patients waiting 120 days on average for primary care appointments and a patient load that has increased 24 percent in the past six months, the New Orleans Charity medical facility is pursuing an expansion plan that could come to a grinding halt if the hiring process is stymied, officials at the hospital said.

“We are in a limbo of sorts and absolutely not able to make any job offers at this time,” said Cathi Fontenot, medical director of the Interim Louisiana State University Public Hospital in New Orleans.

Lombardi raises issue

To check the growth of the state work force, Jindal signed an executive order Jan. 15, his second day in office, prohibiting state agencies from hiring employees unless granted an exemption from the governor’s division of administration.

LSU System President John Lombardi, who oversees the system’s universities and the state’s Charity hospitals, met with Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis this week to discuss the impact on the hospitals and colleges.

Davis said she asked Lombardi’s staff to get back to her as soon as possible with an explanation of the hospital’s “critical needs.” Once that is received, the division will address the concerns immediately, Davis said.

“I’m waiting on them; they’re not waiting on me,” Davis said.

Case-by-case review

In a Jan. 17 memorandum to all state agency heads, Davis said exemptions to the hiring freeze would be considered on a case-by-case basis. A separate request providing “sufficient justification” for an exemption must be submitted for each desired position, and “only critical positions will be approved,” the memo said.

The memo lists 10 points that should be provided with each job request and instructs the agencies to submit the forms to a division analyst.

Davis said she would not grant blanket exemptions, such as to particular agencies. But she said she has received urgent requests that were backed up with documentation.

While awaiting a long-term project to build a replacement for Charity Hospital downtown, the state-run institution in New Orleans is operating out of the former University Hospital building and clinics. The hospital has enough staff to open trailer clinics as planned in two New Orleans communities in the next couple of weeks. Four more trailer clinics will be ready in the next two months, but they will not open until staff is hired, Fontenot said. The hospital is also building a facility at the former Lord & Taylor department store next to the Superdome.

“Without the ability to recruit and hire health care providers, we will now be facing a different challenge than we’ve faced up until now,” Fontenot said.

324 jobs open

Total outpatient and emergency visits to the hospital facilities grew from 9,700 in July to 12,000 in December, she said.

The public hospital also is hiring to keep up with vacancies from employee turnover, Fontenot said.

As of Jan. 17, the hospital had 324 vacancies, including 109 positions for registered nurses and the rest for various medical and clerical positions, Fontenot said. The demand is strong for health care workers in the New Orleans area, and any uncertainties about hiring are detrimental to the hospital’s recruitment effort, she said.

“We’re struggling at this point,” Fontenot said. “We’re recruiting, and we’ve been fairly effective, but we’re still behind our goal.”

LSU System spokesman Charles Zewe said the public hospital system statewide has about 500 job vacancies. More than 100 people who were ready to start work in New Orleans are awaiting word on their employment status now that the hiring freeze has gone into effect, Zewe said.

“We have these health care workers just waiting to go to work” in New Orleans, Zewe said.

University officials are hopeful a compromise can be worked out. Zewe said he did not think the Jindal administration understood the impact on health care when the executive order was signed, and that the hiring problem in New Orleans was “simply an unintended consequence.”

Red tape feared

Fontenot said she hopes the hospital does not have to justify hiring for the open positions one at a time.

“I know how the wheel of state institutions grind, and it’s not very fast in my prior experience,” Fontenot said. “It would signal a delay and negative impact on our ability to provide health care.”

Jindal’s job freeze addresses significant growth in the number of state jobs. In addition to new positions added to the LSU health care system, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco last year approved 1,200 new state jobs and pay raises across the board at state agencies.

the Jindal admninistration needs an EXPLANATION, especially for a 48th place state healthcare ranking????? Sounds like PBJ is getting his flunkee’s talking points from Choco Ray’s minions

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~ by maringouin on Friday, January 25, 2008.

 
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