BATON ROUGE – A state Senate resolution that was partially responsible for the June 30, 2014 closure of the Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville was recently deemed “null and void” by a judge in the 19th Judicial District Court.
Specifically, S.R. 48 said, “in the continuing interest of patient safety, the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby express its approval of and support for the closure of the inpatient beds and the emergency department at the Huey P. Long Medical Center.”
In addition, the resolution approved a proposal from the Board of Supervisors of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College related to the delivery of health care in the Alexandria and Pineville region.
Attorney Chris Roy Sr., who joined a lawsuit filed by attorney J. Arthur Smith that sought to stop the closure of the medical center, said he and Smith will discuss what happens next in wake of the district judge’s ruling. The next steps will also depend on what actions are taken by the Senate and LSU following the order.
The ruling, which was entered on June 15 by 19th District Judge Don Johnson, said the plaintiffs could seek attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses through a post-hearing motion.
Roy and Smith hope to get compensation for the workers who lost their jobs when the hospital closed, including back pay and benefits.
Smith said, however, that the district court ruling still could have an impact on whether the medical center remains closed.
“It’s in a posture now that, if the governor wants to reopen now, we’ve given him an avenue to do so,” Smith told the Louisiana Record.
Roy said all civil service employees are entitled to payment “because their positions were illegally destroyed.”
He said the employees should be reimbursed for wages and benefits lost from the time the medical center was closed because they were not terminated by the Civil Service Commission, but instead were improperly terminated by the Senate through the resolution. In addition, Roy said the Civil Service Commission may have to fund payment of lost wages and benefits if they are ultimately awarded to the affected employees.
Roy said he represents non-union civil service employees, while Smith represents union members. In addition, Roy said he has a client whose brother was “put out” of the hospital when it closed, and she could have a claim on her brother’s behalf.
According to Roy, the Louisiana Senate violated the state’s constitution when drafting the resolution that contributed to the medical center’s closure by failing to comply with the Open Meetings Law and the Senate’s own requirements for providing public notice of a committee meeting. He said the Senate did not take public input on the proposed resolution.
Roy said the Senate’s actions send a message that “we write our own rules, and no one can contradict them.” He said, however, that “the Senate can’t write its own rules.”
“The constitution of any state or of the United States supersedes the power of the three branches of the government,” Roy said. “The constitution is supreme. There’s nothing that’s above it.”
In 2014, 19th District Judge Robert Downing ruled that the Senate failed to comply with the Open Meetings Law when SCR 48 was before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Downing originally imposed a preliminary injunction against the closure. That injunction, however, was later stayed pending an appeal, and hospital closure preparations continued.
Johnson’s June 15 ruling came after an appeal of Downing’s ruling was remanded to the 19th Judicial District Court.