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LSU Wobbles as Jindal Meddles

JindalWreckingBallThe destabilizing impact of Bobby Jindal’s meddling in the day-to-day operations of LSU continue to appear even as the Governor’s micromanaging of the state’s flagship university system intensifies.

There was fresh evidence over the past week that Jindal has called into question the accreditation of the university through his virtual operation of the entire system through his hand-picked LSU Board of Supervisors.

Squelching Happy Talk

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has questioned whether LSU is in compliance with its accreditation standards due to the apparent consolidation of the jobs of system head and chancellor of the main campus in the person of William Jenkins.

The letter pointed out that the university system has not provided SACS with the required notifications of the departure of former LSU Main Campus Chancellor Michael Martin, nor of Jenkins’ appointment as his interim replacement. It also said that the proposed merger of the two positions – system president and main campus chancellor – cannot take place without SACS’s approval, or the accreditation of the entire system will be in jeopardy.

Bob Mann, of LSU, says that “happy talk” from the administration and LSU system leaders should be ignored. Mann says that Auburn was nearly stripped of its accreditation about a decade ago and maintains that in some ways LSU is in deeper trouble than Auburn was because Jindal’s micromanaging has been so thorough.

Mann says one reason Auburn got into trouble with SACS was that the university violated Alabama’s open meetings law. He points out that the LSU Board of Supervisors vote to consolidate the positions of president and chancellor were overturned due to an attorney general’s ruling that the original vote appeared to have violated the Louisiana open meetings law.

Similar questions regarding accreditation of LSU’s medical schools have been raised by the organizations that supervise graduate medical training in the country as a result of the deep cuts and drastic changes in the LSU hospitals ordered by Jindal in the wake of Medicaid cuts.

Seeking a Second Opinion on Hospital Cuts

The Advocate Politics Column on Sunday reported that Rep. Stephen Ortego of Carencro has asked Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to rule on whether Jindal has exceeded his legal authority to make cuts affecting LSU’s hospitals without legislative approval. Rep. Ortego maintains that the cuts ordered in the wake of the Medicaid clawback have been much deeper than the 35% governors are allowed to make without legislative approval.

Ortego asked for an expedited review, according to the paper, noting that “the reductions will be implemented immediately” and could harm the ability of hospitals to deliver patient care and train the state’s future physicians.

The Advocate reported today one reason why a speedy ruling from Caldwell is needed: LSU is said to be nearing lease deals involving one or more hospitals in the seven-hospital southern system connected to the LSU Medical School in New Orleans. Meanwhile, for the three hospitals operated by the LSU Medical School at Shreveport, similar negotiations are underway, although they are being handled by a private foundation which removes any potential talks further from public scrutiny.

 60 Minutes with Alan Levine

Perhaps the most damning development in connection with LSU’s hospitals began to emerge late last week, when officials with Florida-based Health Management Associates (HMA) announced on Thursday that they would hold a Friday press call to defend themselves (free registration may be needed to read the article) against allegations they were expecting to emerge from a segment in Sunday’s CBS New Magazine 60 Minutes.

In the piece which aired last night, CBS said that HMA is under U.S. Justice Department investigation for Medicare fraud. The spokesperson selected by the company to respond on camera to the allegations was none other than Jindal’s former DHH Secretary Alan Levine.

It is worth noting that while Jindal, Levine’s successor at DHH Bruce Greenstein, and the LSU Board of Supervisors work to keep legislators out of the hospital cut decision making process, Jindal engaged Levine in the discussions early in the process.

Did Levine’s recommendations to Jindal reflected the ‘best practices’ he’s learned while at HMA since leaving state government? Did those include aggressive (if not illegal) admission practices as a way for possible private partners to wring every last cent out of any deals with LSU?

What A Difference A Year Makes

A year ago, Bobby Jindal was fresh off of a whopping re-election win. He headed into the Regular Session of the Legislature with unquestioned power. He rammed his education reform package through both houses of the Legislature in nine days, but it’s been down hill since.

A district court ruled his voucher plan unconstitutional on Friday. LSU, which was not on his agenda last year, is the central item on it now, and teeters on the brink of going out of control.

The LSU System’s accreditation has been jeopardized by his meddling, but Jindal has not yet gotten what he wants, so that meddling is likely to intensify rather than ease.

Even though the hospital cuts are unpopular, Jindal is pushing full steam ahead in his effort to rid the state of the public hospital system now being run by LSU. The Governor apparently feels that this must be completed before the major provisions of Affordable Care Act kick in by 2014 so that no attempt to revive the hospitals is possible. That speed is what has raised the accreditation issues with the graduate medical education program.

The Governor appears to have reached the point where he feels encumbered by laws and rules. His frustration is evident; his national reputation rides on implementing his radical public policy experiments in Louisiana. A path forward for him that does not severely damage the LSU System and LSU’s medical schools is not so apparent.

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Originally published: Dec 4, 2012