Public concern over a lack of an emergency room near north Baton Rouge is sparking discussion about possible financial incentives to bring a hospital to the area.
East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman John Delgado is requesting a report at the March 9 council meeting to explore financial incentives to lure an emergency room to north Baton Rouge. The closest emergency facilities have grown more distant since April, when the Baton Rouge General Medical Center emergency room on Florida Boulevard treated its last patient. The Earl K. Long Medical Center, the public hospital in north Baton Rouge, closed in 2013, and now emergency rooms within the city limits are on Essen Lane and Bluebonnet Boulevard.
“I wanted to see what we as a city-parish could do to attract one of the existing hospitals to expand to north Baton Rouge or to attract a hospital corporation from another state or city to fill that need,” Delgado said.
He said some of the incentives he already knows of are land donations, cooperative endeavor agreements and tax abatements.
Delgado has taken a keen interest in north Baton Rouge in recent months. He pitched an economic development district last month to the Metro Council that would abate some property taxes for developers building in north Baton Rouge.
The Metro Council deferred voting to create the economic development district until a meeting this month. Some councilwomen who represent north Baton Rouge had questioned Delgado’s motives for trying to bring development to a part of the city-parish that is miles away from his district.
“I guess he is going to make (north Baton Rouge) believe he is ‘The Great White Hope,’” north Baton Rouge Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel said in November when Delgado started talking about the economic development plan.
Talks about the medically underserved north Baton Rouge community have coincided with plans to transform the south Baton Rouge Essen Lane/Perkins Road/Bluebonnet Boulevard corridor into the Baton Rouge Health District.
When the city-parish Planning Commission recently approved plans for the health district, three members voted against it and cited concerns about the lack of hospitals in north Baton Rouge.
One of the three who voted against the health district at the Planning Commission meeting was Metro Council member Tara Wicker. She said she wanted more time to get information about it.
“All of us are in agreement that we’ve got to do more as it relates to the lack of access to health care in north Baton Rouge,” Wicker said at the time.
Others said it was wrong to relate medical progress in south Baton Rouge to the scarcity of medical care in north Baton Rouge.
One petition being shared online calls for the Metro Council to vote against the creation of the health district until north Baton Rouge medical care is prioritized. The petition, from the group Baton Rouge Organizing, has 688 signatures.
A north Baton Rouge town hall meeting planned for next week also lists a “north Baton Rouge health care district” as one of the topics meeting organizers want to consider.
Delgado said Thursday he would not vote against the health district based on north Baton Rouge’s lack of a hospital.
He called it “grossly unfair” to block the health district but said the debate brings up relevant points about medical care in north Baton Rouge.
“We also need grocery stores in north Baton Rouge, but I’m not going to turn down a grocery store in south Baton Rouge,” he said.