State Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, filed legislation today that would allow the state to lease New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (NOAH) to Ochsner Health Systems in June should Children's Hospital does not agree to reopen NOAH for child and adolescent mental health services.
The bill follows last week's dispute after the lawmaker announced to the New Orleans City Council that Children's signed a lease and agreed to reopen the hospital, which Children's denied.
Children's spokesman Brian Landry confirmed the hospital signed the lease in order to meet the deadline and continue negotiations with the state, adding that Abramson was "accurate with the current lease agreement requirements, but what's also in that lease is our ability to cancel the lease. He knew we were intending to cancel the lease if we're unsuccessful in lifting the restrictions.
The lease requires Children's to reopen NOAH and provide services similar to those it provided before its closure, pursuant to a 2012 law that authorized the lease.
“If [Children's] fail to exercise the agreement under their right of first refusal, the bill provides that we can move on to the next person," Abramson said in a phone interview today. And the next person is Ochsner.
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Asked if Ochsner has expressed an interest in the property, Abramson said, “They are another option as a partner to do more mental health services in New Orleans.”
But Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, who filed another bill related to the NOAH property today, said she was unaware that Ochsner was interested.
"This is the first I've heard of Ochsner," she said. "No one knew that Ochsner was a player in all of this."
Moreno's bill strips the requirements that NOAH be reopened as a mental health hospital. She said that if psychiatric hospital requirement proves a dealbreaker for Children's Hospital — which intends to use the property for health care services, she said — the law should be amended.
Moreno, however, said that NOAH's campus is within Abramson's district and she will follow his lead on his bill if, in fact, Ochsner is the best lessee for the property.
"A few more conversations are going to have to happen first," she said.
Moreno said that Children's is working to expand mental health services in the city, adding nine beds to its Calhoun campus adjacent to NOAH. The new University Medical Center — which will be operated by Louisiana Children's Medical Center, the hospital's parent corporation — will include 60 mental health beds when it opens.
"Rep. Abramson and I are basically on the same page," Moreno said. "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter where mental health services are expanded, as long as it's in the city of New Orleans."