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Ochsner Health System CEO Warner Thomas speaks Wednesday during a St. Mary Industrial Group meeting in Morgan City. (The Daily Review/Zachary Fitzgerald)

Ochsner eyes early fall takeover of Teche Regional

Ochsner Health System should be ready to take over operation of Teche Regional Medical Center in Morgan City by the start of the fall, Ochsner CEO Warner Thomas said Wednesday.

He spoke during a St. Mary Industrial Group meeting at the Petroleum Club of Morgan City.

Thomas expects the parties involved to sign the final agreements within the next two weeks for Ochsner to become the new operator of Teche Regional. He assured the community that the deal is definitely going to happen.

After officials sign those agreements, they will need approval from the state Attorney General’s Office, which could take 60 to 90 days. Thomas hopes that approval process will take less than 90 days, “because it’s a relatively straightforward situation,” he said.

“I think as we get towards the end of the summer, early fall, we’ll be kind of ready to go,” Thomas said.

As soon Ochsner signs the agreements, system leaders will begin talking with Teche Regional employees, so they know what’s happening, he said.

Since just over a year ago, St. Mary Parish Hospital Service District No. 2 has been working to find an operator for Teche Regional to replace Tennessee-based LifePoint Health, which announced last year its plans to cease operations in Louisiana.

Many state and area officials have contributed to making the deal a reality, Thomas said.

Ochsner, which is the largest private employer in Louisiana with 25,000 employees, has 15 owned and managed hospitals, 23 more affiliated hospitals and 115 ambulatory care centers. It focuses on being a “destination center” for cancer services, pediatrics, cardiology and other specialties, he said.

Ochsner’s goals for the Morgan City hospital include retaining more patients locally, expanding physician resources, implementing a new information technology system, encouraging workforce development and addressing clinical needs.

Ochsner leaders focus on constantly improving health care in Louisiana. They have built a statewide network of medical facilities during the past seven years and saw over 811,000 patients last year. Officials are using technology in new ways to help better serve patients. Patients are able to do such things as book appointments and look at test results online.

“We’re going to be bringing opportunities and capabilities to Morgan City that you haven’t seen previously,” Thomas said.

Nearly 90 hospitals are part of Ochsner’s telemedicine network that helps specialists quickly relay information to medical providers in rural communities. Ochsner also has direct-to-patient telemedicine that allows patients to contact a doctor 24/7, he said.

One challenge that Ochsner plans to address in Morgan City is to bring more clinicians and practitioners into the community.

Near the end of 2018, Ochsner began jointly managing hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe with LSU Health Shreveport.The relationship with those north Louisiana hospitals will “build a much bigger pipeline of physicians in the state of Louisiana,” Thomas said.

Ochsner also places great importance on preventative medicine and promotes healthy living to prevent serious medical conditions, such as heart attacks and strokes.

For example, Ochsner cares for patients with high blood pressure by typically putting those patients on medicine and encouraging healthier eating habits and more exercise. But only about 1 in 5 patients are able to get their blood pressure under control by traditional means.

Therefore, Ochsner has a digital medicine program that uses a wireless blood pressure monitor connected to a patient’s smartphone. A bank of pharmacists and health coaches examine the data every day. Ochsner sends reminders to patients to ensure they’re taking their medicine. If patients don’t respond to those messages, Ochsner will eventually send someone to check on a particular patient. Through that program, 4 in 5 patients are able to get their blood pressure under control, he said.

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