Commission: A number of critical steps remain to getting an emergency room in north Baton Rouge _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Metro Council member Chauna Banks-Daniel listens to a person on the Champion Medical Center tour that was hosted by the #NBRNow Blue Ribbon Commission Thursday night.

A group of people pushing for an emergency room in north Baton Rouge told residents Tuesday they want the ER to be part of a contract with the state, but there are still a number of critical steps before that could happen.

The #NBRNOW Blue Ribbon Commission hosted around 50 residents Tuesday at Champion Medical Center in Howell Place, where they have proposed building an emergency room that could keep patients for 96 hours. Their plan is one of a handful of proposals to increase health care access in north Baton Rouge.

But the for-profit emergency room at Champion would require a government subsidy of at least $3.2 million this year and an additional $3.8 million in the following years for building and operating costs. Champion Medical Center is a specialty surgical hospital that would need to be built out to accept emergency room patients.

One of the first steps, said Champion’s interim CEO, Laura Broadhurst, is for Champion to become a Medicaid/Medicare participating facility. She said they would then need to undergo a survey to make sure Champion met emergency room standards before adding those services.

They also are hoping to secure agreements with other local nonprofit hospitals to accept the transfer of patients who need additional care after 96 hours. The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council passed a resolution last week to encourage Our Lady of the Lake, Baton Rouge General and Ochsner Health System to discuss patient transfer agreements with Champion.

Broadhurst and #NBRNOW commission members said their meetings thus far with other hospitals have been encouraging.

“I’m very hopeful and very confident that the other health care facilities in the area would be willing to participate with us to make this successful,” she said.

Broadhurst said she has had fruitful conversations with the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals about becoming a facility that accepts Medicaid.

DHH spokesman Robert Johannessen said DHH is working with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office to “review proposals to increase access to care in north Baton Rouge.” He said their role with Champion and any possible health care provider has been to answer questions about Medicaid, Medicare and state licensing requirements.

Those proposing the emergency room also said state government — despite its budget woes contributing to possible hospital cuts — should divert money it is spending elsewhere and direct it instead to the north Baton Rouge emergency room.

“The reality is residents of north Baton Rouge pay taxes every day just like everyone else does. … You pay into the tax system of the state of Louisiana,” said #NBRNOW Commissioner Gary Chambers. “You are giving funds to the state to basically take care of services around this area.”

Chambers and #NBRNOW Commissioner Cleve Dunn Jr. said they do not want dedicated taxes or tax increases to pay for the emergency room. As an example of a possible money source, Chambers pointed to the more than $50 million that Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center receives from the state to care for the poor.

When the state privatized its hospital system in 2013 and closed Earl K. Long Medical Center, the public hospital for the poor, Our Lady of the Lake became Baton Rouge’s safety net hospital. OLOL’s leadership has said they do not make money from their contract to care for the poor, and they are prepared to walk away from the contract if the state does not fully fund it.

Dunn said the #NBRNOW commissioners are not specifically asking for the money to come from OLOL’s contract with the state but that the money come from wherever it can be diverted. Still, Dunn said the opening of an emergency room in north Baton Rouge should ease the burden on other hospitals and help them to lower their expenses.

“Whether it’s the Lake or any entity, it’s a no-brainer all of them are fatigued,” Dunn said.

Many of the discussions about bringing health care to north Baton Rouge have been steeped in controversy. #NBRNOW Blue Ribbon Commission creator and Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel got into an email spat with Mayor-President Kip Holden’s administration a few hours before Tuesday’s meeting.

Banks-Daniel said she put in a request for the city-parish to deliver 200 chairs to the meeting at Champion Medical Center. She claimed she was being “retaliated against” when the city-parish did not deliver them. Around 30 chairs were available at the meeting, and a handful of people stood in the back.

Holden’s chief administrative officer, William Daniel, told Banks-Daniel he could not furnish the chairs because it was not a city-parish event.

“You are having a private meeting proposed by a private company in a private building,” Daniel wrote to her in an email. “While it may be an important community topic, it has nothing to do with city-parish business. Therefore, I am unable to use taxpayer funds to facilitate the event.”