Freestanding emergency rooms aren’t capable of handling most life threatening emergencies and the problem of inequitable distribution of healthcare in Baton Rouge lies mostly with day-to-day care, a hospital administrator told a civic group Wednesday.

Coletta Barrett, vice president of mission at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, delved into the controversial healthcare debate when she spoke Wednesday at the luncheon for the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge.

Barrett and Andy Allen, who runs the city-parish Healthy City Initiative, told members of the civic group at its monthly luncheon that the city’s four healthcare focuses are mental health, HIV/AIDS, obesity and overuse of emergency departments.

Healthcare leaders have emphasized the difference between emergency rooms and trauma centers and repeatedly cited emergency room overuse as politicians and vocal north Baton Rouge residents have begged for an emergency room there.

Barrett asked how many of those attending the Rotary lunch lived in the 70802 ZIP code, where the Louisiana State Capitol, City Hall, downtown, Spanish Town and Beauregard Town are all located. She said no primary care is available in 70802 to treat people on a day to day basis and help manage chronic diseases to prevent them from requiring emergency room visits.

“We definitely have an inequitable distribution of access to primary care across our community,” Barrett said, citing the 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s health rankings that list Baton Rouge as best in the state for clinical care.

Breaking the generational cycle of people who go to emergency rooms to be treated for non-emergent reasons is one of the biggest challenges the healthcare community faces, Barrett said.

Baton Rouge General said four out of five of the Mid City emergency room patients would have been more appropriately treated in urgent care or primary care before that emergency room closed.

And 84 percent of former shuttered charity hospital Earl K. Long’s patients in 2012 would have been better treated in primary care or urgent care, Barrett said.

After the closure of Earl K. Long, Our Lady of the Lake started receiving money from the state to treat the poor and uninsured, and also opened urgent care clinics in north Baton Rouge.

As the region’s trauma center, Our Lady of the Lake is best equipped to take care of patients who have been shot, stabbed, in car wrecks and other traumatic events, Barrett said. The Lake and other full-service hospitals in Baton Rouge are also  capable of taking care of heart attack and stroke patients, while freestanding emergency departments lack the cath labs and specialists to effectively treat such incidents.

Even Our Lady of the Lake’s freestanding emergency room in Livingston does not generally treat trauma, stroke or heart attack patients, Barrett said.

“We have often told people if you got shot in the parking lot of what used to be the Earl K. Long Hospital, if it was open today, you would still go to Our Lady of the Lake,” Barrett said. “That is where trauma surgeons, anesthesia” and all the support services are in place to get a patient from the emergency department to the operating room within 10 minutes.

Barrett and Allen talked up the city-parish’s City Key device that shows data about health indicators in Baton Rouge. They also spoke of the stigma that accompanies both HIV and mental health problems in Baton Rouge, and Barrett said the mentally ill are “one of the most underserved” populations in the city.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​