The quest to create a Baton Rouge health district took a new turn on Tuesday, with East Baton Rouge Parish Planning Director Frank Duke saying the Baton Rouge Area Foundation asked to pull the zoning application for the district.
But the zoning request will have to stay on the parish Metro Council’s zoning agenda for the 90 days that the council deferred it for last week, Duke said. The council postponed voting on the item after a crowd of north Baton Rouge residents asked members to reject it and said it was wrong for health care in the south to flourish while the north was underserved.
BRAF and the hospitals included in the health district can pull the zoning application only when it comes back up in 90 days, according to Duke. They could ask the Metro Council to delete the item from the agenda, but they also could ask for the council to vote on it then.
BRAF Executive Vice President John Spain would not comment Tuesday on his request to pull the health district application. After a mental health news conference Monday, Spain said he anticipated that the health district eventually would pass through the Metro Council with little opposition.
He also said Monday that getting the zoning for the health care district was only one small slice of the larger plans to create the district.
“The establishment of the coordination of services for the health care providers — there was no permission needed for that to happen, it was happening realistically anyway,” said Councilwoman Tara Wicker about the health district going forward regardless of a zoning vote.
Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel is celebrating the latest news about BRAF’s health district zoning request as a victory.
“I am so proud of the intelligent, educated, informed, and passionate advocacy that understood that a health care district that was dedicated to a small area was immoral,” she said in a statement released Tuesday night.
But not obtaining the zoning designation would sting for John Fregonese, who drafted the city-parish’s most recent land-use plan. Fregonese said he agrees that north Baton Rouge needs more medical access, but he said the hospital district is not going to hurt north Baton Rouge’s chances at getting healthcare.
“It’s really about establishing a (hospital) district, having them recognized like you recognize downtown or the industrial corridor,” he said.
The health care district’s overall plan calls for a coordination of services among the city-parish’s major health care providers that are clustered. The yet-to-be-hired executive director of the health district nonprofit would lead the plans going forward.
The health district also calls for roadwork to alleviate traffic around the hospitals and a possible creation of a diabetes and obesity center and even a medical school.
“If you look at the amount of people that are employed in the medical field, it’s one of the major industries in the parish and really deserves nurturing if the parish wants to grow economically,” Fregonese said.
Metro Councilman John Delgado said he would be inclined to delete the zoning application from the agenda in a few months if BRAF requested it. But he also said that if BRAF and the hospitals asked for the item to stay on the agenda, he would vote for it.
“If the hospitals came back and said, ‘We want this,’ I would support it,” Delgado said. “It makes sense, it helps them show to the outside world that this is a designated hospital district and that BR is a city with a commitment to healthcare.”