Health-care forum sues state Department of Health for cuts, defamation

By Christopher Mobley | Jan 20, 2017

BATON ROUGE — A lawsuit has been brought against Louisiana's state health department by a government-funded nonprofit.

The Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum filed the lawsuit against the state health department on Dec. 12, claiming that the department had failed to pay $12 million in funds that were promised to the forum. The Quality Forum also said that the Louisiana's health secretary, Rebekah Gee, has caused damage to the reputation of the nonprofit.

The Forum was created in 2007 in order to improve health care in post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana. According to the lawsuit, the state and federal governments provide for about three-quarters of the organization's funding, and the Forum has a contract with the state health department than runs from 2012 through mid 2017. The Forum claims that it relied on the funds promised by the Louisiana Department of Health and cannot continue to survive if Louisiana's Department of Health and Gee refuse to continue to provide the previously promised funding.

The Forum also said there could be “a significant public health fact” because of the fact that it may have to stop providing certain health-care services. According to the lawsuit, Gee instructed the department to withdraw the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum's 2016-2017 request for funding after she took over in January 2016 and did not inform the Forum of the action.

Kelly Zimmerman, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health, said that programs from former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration are being reviewed and that changes were being made in order to be “responsible stewards of public funds.”

Zimmerman also claimed that efforts between the department and the Quality Forum have been collaborative.

“We've had a productive relationship with the Louisiana Quality Forum over the past few months,” Zimmerman said.

However, according to the Quality Forum, efforts between them and the Department of Health have been less than collaborative. Apart from the issues regarding the funding, the Forum also accused the Louisiana Department of Health of unfair trade practices and making defamatory statements about the Quality Forum's services and efforts that have cause great damage to the reputation of the organization.

According to the lawsuit, the Forum claimed that the Louisiana Department of health made the defamatory comments to other organizations and people within the health-care industry in order to discourage them from doing business with the Forum. The lawsuit also stated that the Forum believes that the Louisiana Department of Health attempted to use the power of the state to put the organization out of business and shift projects to its competitors.

Zimmerman claimed that the accusations are false and that the Louisiana Department of Health have fulfilled their obligations to the Quality Forum, disagreeing with claims made by Forum in the lawsuit.

The Quality Forum seeks monetary damages from the Department for defamation and unfair trade practices. The organization is being represented by Ellie Schilling of Schonekas, Evans, McGoey and McEachin of New Orleans.

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