Last week, hundreds of people in conservative St. Tammany Parish turned out to air heartfelt concerns about the impending closure of Southeast Louisiana Hospital (SELH) in Mandeville, which will leave metro New Orleans without a public mental health facility and erase nearly 600 jobs on the Northshore. One speaker told the crowd, "About 90 percent of the people around here voted for Jindal. This is a slap in the face." The frustration in that statement is self-evident, but it pales in comparison to the pain soon to be inflicted upon the hospital's patients and their families.
Very soon, Northshore residents will know how New Orleans residents felt when Jindal shut down New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (NOAH) three years ago this month. Ironically, Jindal justified closing NOAH by saying patients would get the treatment they needed at SELH. Now he's cutting off that option as well, forcing all who depend on public mental health care in southeast Louisiana to seek treatment in Pineville, more than 200 miles away. To add insult to injury, no one from the state Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) came from Baton Rouge to hear people's concerns in St. Tammany. In typical fashion, Jindal himself was preparing to leave for yet another out-of-state campaign trip, this one to Montana and Indiana last Friday, Sept. 21.
Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, members of the Louisiana Independent Pharmacies Association gathered to oppose a new rule in the DHH budget. The new rule, adopted earlier this month, cuts $56 million from pharmacy reimbursements — but it will fall heaviest on locally owned drugstores. Louisiana pharmacists say the rule puts them at a disadvantage against national drug chains, which can purchase meds in bulk and use them as loss leaders to undercut local competitors. Perhaps, when he returns to Louisiana from his hectic schedule of national self-promotion, the governor can explain how putting locally owned pharmacies out of business somehow promotes economic development.
As we went to press, the group Louisiana Progress was planning a Sept. 22 "Medicaid Misery Tour" of five south Louisiana health care facilities that have been or will be affected by Jindal's Medicaid cuts — starting with NOAH, which was the last public mental health facility in the city. No doubt Team Jindal will dismiss the protests as the work of a liberal and/or Democratic front group. Louisiana Progress indeed leans leftward, but that doesn't automatically make the group wrong. Besides, name-calling merely sidesteps the substantive issues raised by Jindal's critics (a ploy the governor has mastered). At the end of the day, Bobby Jindal will not be able to hide from, or sidestep, his legacy of human suffering.
Like the Roman emperor Nero, who is said to have fiddled while Rome burned, Jindal blithely traipses across America pursuing his national ambitions while his constituents suffer in ever-growing numbers. Here is the unvarnished truth about Bobby Jindal's tenure as governor:
• Since he took office in 2008, state support for higher education has been cut by more than $426 million, and the median income of Louisiana households has declined every year — from more than $45,400 in 2008 to less than $41,800 in 2011. Last year, the national average household income rose by more than 1.5 percent.
• Since 2008, Louisiana's unemployment rate has doubled from 3.8 percent to 7.6 percent. Although that's still lower than the national unemployment rate, the national rate has gone down since January 2011 — from 9.1 percent to 8.1 percent.
• Since 2010, the percentage of Louisianans living in poverty has risen from 18.7 percent to 20.4 percent, and the percentage of children in poverty increased to 28.8 percent from 27.3 percent.
• Also since 2010, the number of working-age adults who lack health insurance remains high at 25.7 percent. That figure is going to grow even more in the coming years, because Jindal — for purely self-serving political reasons — refuses to accept hundreds of millions of federal Medicaid dollars available under the Affordable Care Act.
What is Bobby Jindal doing in the face of such numbers?
This week, the governor is scheduled to be in Iowa on a bus tour seeking to oust one of that state's Supreme Court justices for alleged "judicial activism." Why this is our governor's fight, or even his business, remains unexplained by Team Jindal. What's obvious is that he continues to promote himself and his national ambitions at the expense of Louisiana and her people. We don't know what Bobby Jindal is running for now, but it seems clear that he's running from his legacy of misery in Louisiana.