The imminent closure of the only emergency room left in central Baton Rouge, announced Tuesday by medical officials, will significantly alter the city’s emergency health care network, breeding the equivalent of an emergency room desert in the center of Louisiana’s capital city.
Medical emergency responders said ambulance transport times will likely increase for many people in the Baton Rouge area when Baton General Medical Center closes the ER at its Mid City campus, which hospital leaders said will occur within 60 days.
The likely increase in some transport times could lead to more deaths, said Dr. Beau Clark, coroner of East Baton Rouge Parish, because “time is of the essence in trauma.”
“It’ll be disastrous,” Clark said of the closure, while also expressing understanding regarding the medical center’s financially based decision to close its ER.
Mike Chustz, a spokesman for Emergency Medical Services in East Baton Rouge Parish, said Mid City’s closure also will likely result in increased “drop times” — the time it takes to transfer a patient from a waiting ambulance into the ER, thus tying up the ambulances.
“This could add a little more demand to us and, down the road, we may have to look at adding another ambulance or two to facilitate these transport times,” Chustz said.
EMS operates with 13 ambulances at peak times and 11 ambulances between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., Chustz said.
When Mid City closes, Chustz said, the vast majority of EMS transports will go to ERs at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s Bluebonnet campus, which are within about a mile of each other in the southern portion of the parish.
EMS also transports to ERs at Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary and Ocshner Medical Center off O’Neal Lane, near the parish’s eastern border. For mostly geographical reasons, EMS transports a lower percentage of patients to those hospitals, he said.
Justin Cox, an operations manager at Acadian Ambulance Services, said Mid City’s closure is “going to really affect our system.”
Acadian, which transports from surrounding parishes to hospitals in East Baton Rouge Parish, in addition to handling some residential calls in the parish, takes lots of patients to Mid City, Cox said.
“Ultimately it’s the patient’s choice where they want to go,” Cox said. “And, simply, they will not have that option anymore,” he said, referring to Mid City.
Mid City officials said there were 45,000 patient visits at its ER last year.
The responsibility of taking care of those people will now fall to the remaining ERs and other medical treatment facilities.
“They’re going to have to pick up the slack now,” Cox said.
Coletta Barrett, vice president of mission at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, said the Lake won’t be able to determine how much of a possible increase in patients to expect until it can analyze the breakdown of visits at Mid City.
While referring to Mid City’s closure as “a very sad thing for the community,” Barrett also said the closure will represent an opportunity to re-educate the community about when trips to the ER are necessary.
“Make sure you seek the right care, at the right time, at the right place,” Barrett said.
Advocate staff writer Marsha Shuler contributed to this report. Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.