Health Nonprofit Sues Louisiana For Cuts, Alleges Defamation

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A government-financed nonprofit aimed at improving Louisiana's health information technology is suing the state health department, saying the agency hasn't paid $12 million in promised funding and the health secretary has damaged the nonprofit's reputation.

         The Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum lawsuit, filed earlier this month in Baton Rouge state district court, says the lack of funding jeopardizes an electronic medical records program and years of state-supported work to improve medical record-sharing among health providers.

         The nonprofit also claims Health Secretary Rebekah Gee is harming its business by publishing critical statements about the forum on the health department website despite knowing they "were false and defamatory."

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         The forum was created in 2007, backed by then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco and lawmakers in a post-Hurricane Katrina initiative to improve health care in the state. Technology upgrades, in which doctors, hospitals and other providers can share medical records, were a primary aim.

         The nonprofit is run by a board of health providers, doctors, insurers and others including Blanco. Lawmakers have urged the health department to work collaboratively with the organization on health improvements. Among its projects, the forum helped medical practices set up electronic records systems and maintains a network that allows health providers to share information across Louisiana.

         About three-quarters of the organization's funding is provided by the state and federal governments, according to the lawsuit. It has a 2012 contract with the state health department that the lawsuit says runs through mid-2017.

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         Health department spokeswoman Kelly Zimmerman said Tuesday that the agency has been reviewing programs from former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration and making changes to be "responsible stewards of public funds."

         "We are working to align resources to better help us improve the health of Louisiana," Zimmerman said in a statement suggesting the department had been working "in cooperation with" the health quality forum.

         The nonprofit disagrees with suggestions the work has been collaborative, however, and accuses the secretary of trying to shift projects to its competitors and of suggesting publicly that the health quality forum has done a poor job.

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         "Throughout the summer and fall of 2016, the quality forum was told by stakeholders in the health care community that LDH officials were communicating inaccurate and damaging information about the quality forum to others in the health care industry," the lawsuit says.

         Among other things, the lawsuit accuses the health department and Gee of unfair trade practices and defamation and seeks a monetary award from the agency.

         Zimmerman said the department has fulfilled its obligations to the health quality forum and disagrees with "characterizations offered in the suit."

         "However, we are committed to resolving this matter amicably in the best interests of the state," she said.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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