Leaders of a health care company told a group of local politicians and activists on Thursday that they could create an emergency room in north Baton Rouge’s Champion Medical Center, but they would need a yearly infusion of money to make it work.
Potential health care operators said they would need $6 million to $6.5 million to build the space and then an annual subsidy of $3 million to $3.5 million — likely from state or local government — to operate and maintain it. They said the emergency room would be designed for in-and-out visits and that patients needing a high level of care could be stabilized there before being transferred to one of Baton Rouge’s larger hospitals.
“We are going to isolate the services we provide; we’re going to treat the patient, stabilize them and then work on getting them to the appropriate facility,” said Josh Ihde, president of the hospital division for Dallas-based Next Health LLC.
Next Health, a for-profit company, operates Champion Medical, as well as a number of other specialty surgical hospitals and other medical facilities in many states.
Next Health officials helped lead a tour and deliver a presentation about the potential emergency room to about 50 people on Thursday. They were joined by representatives from Dallas-based Cambridge Holdings Inc., which owns the building, and members of the #NBRNOW Blue Ribbon Commission that advocates for north Baton Rouge and hosted the event.
They spelled out a vision for a small, freestanding, licensed emergency room at Champion that partners with other hospitals in the city. Next Health focuses on boutique health care in upscale facilities, and Champion has 45,000 square feet to house an emergency room.
North Baton Rouge has been void of an emergency room since Baton Rouge General’s Mid City emergency room on Florida Boulevard closed last spring. The campus was losing $23.8 million before hospital leaders said they could no longer afford to keep the emergency room open.
Only 13 percent of the patients going to Baton Rouge General’s Mid City emergency room had commercial insurance, which gives hospitals higher reimbursement rates for their services than the federal government’s Medicaid and Medicare coverage. The hospital also had to eat the entire cost of treating 36 percent of those who visited because they had no insurance.
Leslie T. Grover, a Southern University public administration and public policy professor and #NBRNOW co-chairwoman, gave a presentation to the group Thursday about the level of insurance coverage in north Baton Rouge. She said the area has a significant number of uninsured and Medicaid-reliant patients. She said north Baton Rouge demographics show that its residents are poorer than those in other parts of the parish and less likely to have commercial insurance.
Ihde said a potential emergency room at Champion would accept Medicaid, the government-based health insurance for the poor, and Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly. He said the combination of a subsidy, specialized care and the expanded availability of Medicaid and health insurance in general under the Affordable Care Act should all help the emergency room avoid the major losses that dragged down Baton Rouge General.
Dennis Barnes, the executive vice president and chief operating officer for Cambridge said the setup of Champion Medical Center would allow it to be more “nimble” than Baton Rouge General’s emergency room.
He said it would be less expensive to operate out of a space specifically designed as a small emergency room, whereas hospitals often have higher costs because of their larger and less-efficient buildings. He said building the medical facility at Howell Place Business Park already has cost more than $25 million but that it has not been profitable as a specialized surgical center.
“Our company has been here 10 years; we haven’t made money on this investment historically, but we’re still here,” Barnes said.
Champion has a large area of shell space on its first floor that would be built into the emergency room. Ihde said they would add a covered entrance and access to the emergency room for vehicles coming off Howell Boulevard.
“In a matter of months, we could be up and opening and seeing patients,” he said.
East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel said she eventually wants primary care and other forms of preventative health care to be expanded in north Baton Rouge as well.
Banks-Daniel created the #NBRNOW panel earlier this year to tackle the lack of economic development in north Baton Rouge. The panel received Metro Council approval this week to draft preliminary strategies to try to bring more health care facilities and business to the area.
As for the emergency room, Ihde said finding funding sources is the next step in the process.
“We have put our money in this; we are prepared to continue to put our money in this, but it would be nice to have some help,” Barnes said.