Report Details New Orleans' Healthcare Challenges
New Orleans CityBusiness
September 1, 2009
by Stephen Maloney Staff Writer

A quarterly performance report by Philadelphia-based consulting firm Public Financial Management lays bare some stark realities of life in Orleans Parish.

The report, presented to the New Orleans City Council Monday at a joint meeting of the budget and recovery committees, offers a glimpse at what PFM consultant Chris Pencikowski called a performance-based assessment of city services.

Pencikowski said the number of overall deaths in Orleans Parish rose by 25 percent in 2008, while calls for emergency medical service topped 11,000 in the first quarter of 2009.

The national health care crisis combined with the lack of local emergency room access has combined to put a strain on local emergency medical services, Pencikowski said.

“This is really a significant sign that there is limited access to care across the city,” Pencikowski said.

Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said the lack of emergency room services leads more citizens to turn to first responders like the fire department and emergency medical services, putting a strain on those services.

The New Orleans Fire Department responded to 75 percent of emergency calls within six minutes, Pencikowski said, but that number is still well below the national average of a six-minute response time for 90 percent of calls.

Hedge-Morrell said the EMS information provided in the report sheds invaluable light on the health care and emergency services crisis.

“This shows that while we’ve all been focused on the mental health crisis, but we’re also having a straight medical crisis that is all part of the same picture,” New Orleans Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Cary Grant said.

By looking at the actual performance of individual services, Pencikowski said residents and city leaders will be able to chart the city’s progress and assess which areas need the most attention and determine if taxpayer money is being spent properly.

While Council President Arnie Fielkow and Councilwoman Stacey Head questioned the $1.5 million contract the city signed with PFM in 2007 to provide this analysis, Grant said the benefits of having a real-time sense of what challenges the city faces far outweigh the cost.

Fielkow said the analysis provided by PFM fell short in other areas, though. The performance indicators marking the success of the New Orleans Recreation Department failed to go beyond sports participation numbers, which Fielkow said barely scratches the surface of whether NORD programs are producing results.

“The number of kids participating is but one of many factors that determine if what we’re spending makes good sense,” Fielkow said. “I would suggest that while the number of people participating is an important factor, there are so many others that go into the question of whether we are spending the taxpayer properly in that area.”

Pencikowski said the analysis looks at the outcomes of programs and takes into account an array of factors to determine the ultimate effectiveness of a program.

“There are a lot of different measurements we use,” he said. “We’re looking at several different layers and we’re looking at if departments are efficiently using city dollars.”

Fielkow called for a stronger partnership between the council and the administration in determining which programs meet the requirements of effectively using taxpayer money through performance analysis.

“If we’re going to pay $1.5 million for this type of service, I think it would be good for us to be working in partnership with you so when we get to the end of the fiscal year we can truly look at all of the factors that are determining whether or not we satisfy that criteria,” Fielkow said.•

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