CHARENTON — Gov. John Bel Edwards surprised health care attendees of the Teche Action Clinic 45th Anniversary Banquet on Friday before leaving New Iberia.
And when he entered the Pavilion inside Cypress Bayou Casino, the crowd erupted more than once with cries of four more years.
Teche Action Clinic is the state’s first community health center, opening in Franklin in 1974.
State Rep. Sam Jones (D), who was then mayor of Franklin, told the crowd that the clinic has grown from a three-bedroom home to a $22 million corporation, employing 300 employees who treat nearly 30, 000 patients at 15 sites.
Jones was the first up to speak Friday, when he was interrupted by a phone call from the governor, who said he was about to walk into the banquet. Jones and Edwards were long time seat mates in the legislature, before Edwards became governor. The two have remained close friends and confidantes.
The crowd of 300-plus people began shouting as Edwards entered and joined State Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee and Jones on stage. Gee was slated as guest speaker.
“It is because of Gov. Edwards that we have nearly 500,000 people in the state of Louisiana with health care,” Gee said.
Edwards told the crowd that passing Medicaid was the “easiest, biggest decision” he ever made as governor.
“We have saved over $300 million in our first two years, against a $2 billion budget deficit that my predecessor Bobby Jindal, left me, when he left office,” Edwards said.
“Jindal always said that Louisiana couldn’t afford passing Medicaid but maybe that’s why he wouldn’t do it, because he didn’t know what he was doing, anyway.
“But we’ve proved that if you do it right, you save money, and you save hospitals. We have not had a single hospital close in this state unlike the southern states who refused to pass Medicaid, who have resorted to closing hospitals by the dozens. And today, we have the highest percentage of people ever in the state of Louisiana who have health insurance.”
But Edwards said his opponent in the governor’s race won’t have this success if he is elected, because he wants to freeze Medicaid.
The governor cited the state of Arizona as an example of what Louisiana could see if Republican Eddie Rispone is elected. He said the state recently chose to freeze the program.
“Since then, their budget exploded, hundreds of thousands of persons lost insurance, and now Arizona is paying 40 cents on the dollar to care for these residents instead of 10 cents on the dollar, which the programs within Medicaid, allow,” Edwards said.
“Do you want to explode the budget in Louisiana, close hospitals, and watch folks die? That’s what will happen in Louisiana if Phony Rispone gets an opportunity. But we’re not going to give my opponent the opportunity are we? All you have to do is vote, and we will win.”
Wiltz said he had the honor of serving on Edwards’ health care transition team, and it was his hand whom Edwards first shook, after he signed the Medicaid program into law.
“Promises made, promises kept. That’s what I have to say about this man,” Wiltz said.
He is the fourth chief executive officer of Teche Action Clinic.
He was invited to join Teche Action Clinic in 1982 in fulfillment of a National Service Corps obligation.
In 2003, the Teche Action Board of Directors hired him to be the clinic’s new top boss.
To this day, he also manages to treat patients, and brush with politics.
Gee took an opportunity to caution the crowd as she spoke.
“Please vote. Please get everyone you know to vote. Elections have consequences,” she said.
“Do not listen to all of the poopycock about how bad Louisiana is. I can tell you that Louisiana is not last in health care, anymore,” she said.