Deal between Baton Rouge General and Ochsner months behind schedule, but both sides say they’re still talking

When officials with New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System and General Health System, which owns Baton Rouge General Medical Center, announced in March that they’d signed a letter of intent to enter into a strategic partnershipthey said they hoped the deal would be finalized by the third quarter of the year.

Now, one month into the fourth quarter, the deal is nowhere close to being finalized, according to multiple sources. Officials with both institutions, however, insist that talks between the two hospitals are continuing, albeit at a slower pace than they were earlier in the year.

In response to a request for comment, Joe Juban, chairman of the Baton Rouge General Board of Trustees, and Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health System, issued a written statement saying: “While our discussions were interrupted by this summer’s change in leadership at Baton Rouge General and the historic flooding in the region, we continue our work on a proposed joint operating agreement that will seek to provide the most comprehensive, integrated healthcare in the Baton Rouge area.”

In August, Baton Rouge General President and CEO Mark Slyter abruptly stepped down from his post after three years marked by financial turmoil. No explanation was given for his departure.

Slyter was a driving force behind the proposed partnership, and would have served as president and CEO of the combined institution.

Sources say in the months since, the board has been preoccupied with its search for a replacement. In the meantime, Chief Operating Officer Edgardo Tenreiro has been serving as interim CEO.

The partnership between the two institutions would create a network with more than 30 local clinics, five acute care and specialty hospitals and 5,000 employees. But before the letter of intent can become a joint operating agreement, officials with both institutions have to work through issues related to the consolidation of services and the redundancy of back office functions, as well as changes to Baton Rouge General’s information technology systems.

When the deal was announced, Ochsner officials said patient records at Baton Rouge General would transfer to Ochsner’s EPIC electronic records system, which would be a hefty investment for Baton Rouge General in the short term but would provide more efficiencies in the long run.

It is unclear whether any of those issues have become a sticking point in the talks, or if talks have even progressed to that level of specificity.

Officials with both institutions decline to discuss the status of their negotiations or to provide a new time frame for when a deal might be reached.

—Stephanie Riegel

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