The Metro Council on Wednesday deferred for 90 days voting on the creation of a zoning designation for a Baton Rouge Health District in south Baton Rouge after a two-hour, impassioned debate about the lack of access to medical care elsewhere in the city-parish.

The vote to defer was 7-4, with some council members arguing against deferring, noting the council chambers packed with residents imploring them to vote against creation of the district. Throughout the debate, no residents spoke in favor of the district, which was originally unveiled as an ambitious plan to bring together health care providers in the Essen Lane/Bluebonnet Boulevard /Perkins Road corridor.

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Trae Welch, Scott Wilson, Donna Collins-Lewis, Erika Green, Buddy Amoroso, Tara Wicker and John Delgado all voted to defer the item. Chauna Banks-Daniel, LaMont Cole, Chandler Loupe and Ryan Heck voted against deferring the item.

The proposed healthcare district calls for capitalizing on the cluster of healthcare resources in south Baton Rouge, with new roads, a possible medical school and a possible diabetes and obesity treatment center. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation has led the effort to build the district and funded a $700,000 plan for it.

But many political leaders, residents and others who spoke at the meeting said creating a health care district in south Baton Rouge is frivolous compared to the more-urgent issue of the lack of medical care in north Baton Rouge, which has seen the closure of the Earl K. Long Hospital and Baton Rouge General Emergency Room in the past few years.

Delgado unsuccessfully tried to have the council defer the item about halfway through the meeting, but public comment continued for another hour. Collins-Lewis finally convinced the Metro Council to defer the item at the two-hour mark, saying the meeting had become too heated and that more conversation needs to happen.

Volumes of questions emerged throughout the debate about what the council’s vote for the district would mean and what the creation of a health district would entail.

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Nobody from BRAF was at the meeting to answer those questions.

Though the health district would have no taxing authority, some council members and residents worried about whether future tax dollars would go toward building roads, infrastructure or other items the plan calls for.

Some saw a vote for the healthcare district as a symbolic zoning gesture that would do nothing more than change the city-parish’s land plan.

“What this boils down to is coloring something a different color on a map,” said Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson. “This is just like a recognition that there are a bunch of hospitals in this area.”

Others saw the zoning designation as opening in which BRAF could exert too much influence over the city-parish. They said it’s another example of the city-parish turning its back on north Baton Rouge while the south side flourishes.

“Stand up to the foundation,” said Gary Chambers, an activist who publishes, a website dedicated to local black issues. “Ask (BRAF) for the $750,000 for the study of north Baton Rouge and hire an African American firm to do the study.”

Questioning BRAF’s motives was a common theme among speakers throughout the night.

“They simply don’t see African Americans and poor people,” said Bruce Blaney, who spoke in opposition to the health district. “They are the ruling class. … Take ’em on, fight for the people.”

Delgado said wanted to defer the item because he was contacted by state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, about her plans for health care additions to the city-parish. Delgado said he was inclined to support the district because bolstering south Baton Rouge health care would not detract from bringing healthcare resources to north Baton Rouge.

Delgado has requested a presentation at a Metro Council meeting next month to explore incentives that might lure a new hospital to north Baton Rouge.

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The city-parish’s assistant chief administrative officer, John Price, and Planning Director Frank Duke both asked the council approve the health district’s plan. Duke said he agrees north Baton Rouge had been long ignored, and that the planning commission should turn its focus next toward the north.

“There’s no public money, there’s no choice between putting a hospital in south Baton Rouge versus north Baton Rouge,” Price said. He added that he did not want the debate to pit one side of the city-parish against the other, to which many in the crowd objected, saying the health district would do exactly that.

Barrow later showed up at the council meeting and said she was concerned about how north Baton Rouge fits into the bigger picture of the healthcare conversation.

The debate veered wildly throughout the meeting, with issues like poverty, race and the accountability of elected and non-elected leaders coming to the forefront.

More than 30 people with Together Baton Rouge stickers on their clothes packed into the meeting.

Together Baton Rouge organizer René Singleton said her group is also planning to unveil a healthcare proposal for north Baton Rouge. She said they were not ready to disclose the details, but it should come before the council in 90 days.

Loupe said he was tired of being painted with a broad brush as someone who must not care about north Baton Rouge healthcare because he represents south Baton Rouge and is a white Republican. He said his father is a doctor in north Baton Rouge and that he understands the crisis happening there.

“We are always looked at as the five African American women on the council versus the seven white Republican men,” Collins-Lewis agreed, saying health care does not only pertain to the black community. “There are poor, white people in north Baton Rouge that need healthcare.”