Fearing a loss of competition and feeling that public officials had not consulted them, local voters squelched a bid by Tenet Healthcare Corp. to consolidate the only two hospitals in Slidell, La.
Voters rejected Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet's $130 million bid to purchase 182-bed Slidell Memorial Hospital by a 3-to-1 margin on April 5. The unofficial vote totals were 3,508 to 11,794, according to the Louisiana secretary of state's office.
Kathy Goss, an organizer of Save Our Slidell Memorial Hospital, said voters feared cost increases and felt officials didn't confer with them about the sale.
Before the vote, the Federal Trade Commission said in a letter the sale would likely result in higher healthcare prices (April 7, p. 12). Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub requested the FTC's opinion. Ieyoub, along with district voters, must approve a sale of the public hospital. Goss said the letter confirmed the suspicions of those who opposed the sale. Residents of St. Tammany Parish Hospital Service District No. 2, which owns the hospital, also wanted an alternative to Tenet's 147-bed NorthShore Regional Medical Center, Goss said. Some residents have complained about NorthShore's quality of care, aggressive billing and collection practices, Goss said.
But Al Hamauei, who resigned last week as chairman of the hospital board, said the sale opponents misled voters to think there was a better option-one that would allow them to retain control-than a sale to Tenet. Providers that have shown interest in Slidell Memorial weren't interested in investing much money for the hospital without gaining control, he said. Tenet's offer was the highest among eight the board considered. The other bidders weren't identified.
"I think the community missed a golden opportunity to have a healthcare Mecca that would have been matched only by New Orleans," Hamauei said.
Voters last summer rejected a tax-supported bond issue to support capital improvements to the hospital. Hamauei said the hospital must have either the bond issue or a sale because it needs at least $35 million in capital improvements. Tenet said it would invest $40 million in the hospital. Goss said voters understand the hospital's needs better and might support a tax now.
Tenet spokesman Steven Campanini said the company is disappointed in the vote and surprised by the margin. Tenet officials met this week with the hospital board. Tenet hasn't made a decision regarding its continuing interest in the hospital, Campanini said.