Mall of La., hospitals petitioning for annexation _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Views of the Baton Rouge General on Picardy off Bluebonnet Boulevard.

Baton Rouge General is working on plans to move its Regional Burn Center from its Mid City campus to the Bluebonnet Boulevard medical center, a move that follows the closure of Mid City’s emergency room and some people fear is another step toward the ultimate closure of the hospital.

The burn unit is being moved so that patients don’t have to be transported across town from Baton Rouge General’s emergency room on Bluebonnet to the Mid City campus on Florida Boulevard, hospital officials said.

The emergency room at Baton Rouge General-Mid City closed on March 31 because of rising costs associated with treating uninsured patients. It was losing $2 million a month when it closed.

Hospital officials have been working with consultants on a plan for the Mid City hospital. They’ve said it could be recast as a specialist in post-acute care, which includes short-term skilled nursing, therapy and rehabilitation services for patients recovering from an illness. Doing so would position Mid City to care for the rapidly growing number of seniors and people with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

No timetable has been set yet for the burn unit’s move, but Olivia Hwang, a spokeswoman with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said her agency has given Baton Rouge General verbal approval. A letter will be sent to Baton Rouge General once a transition date is provided.

“Baton Rouge General is firmly committed to providing the very best, state-of-the-art care to burn patients,” Mark Slyter, president and chief executive officer of Baton Rouge General/General Health System, said in a statement. “Working with DHH is an early step in realizing our vision to relocate the Regional Burn Center to our Bluebonnet campus.”

Edgardo Tenreiro, chief operating officer, said Baton Rouge General is working with DHH and its clinical leadership on the special steps needed to treat burn patients.

“Burn care is a very complex and technical multidisciplinary service, and changes take time to be fully vetted and implemented,” he said in a statement.

The Rev. Rick Andrus, a member of the executive board of Together Baton Rouge, a coalition of church and civic groups that fought the closure of the Mid City emergency room, said the decision to move the burn unit is “just another step in the very quick progression of closing the entire hospital and abandoning the medical needs of the community.”

Andrus, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, called the situation “a slow-moving train wreck.”

About 30 people work in the burn unit, which can accommodate 12 patients at a time.

Baton Rouge General officials said the unit has taken care of more than 10,000 patients in the past decade, accounting for about 90 percent of all burn incidents in the region. The center, which opened in July 1970, was the first designated burn facility in Louisiana. It is one of 125 specialized burn centers in the United States and the only comprehensive facility within a 250-mile radius of Baton Rouge.

Pediatric burn patients already are being cared for at Baton Rouge General Bluebonnet. Officials with Baton Rouge General said about 10 patients a day are treated at the Mid City burn unit. The hospital’s overall patient load has been between 70 to 80 patients a day since its emergency room closed.

East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle, who has the Mid City hospital in her district, said the burn unit move doesn’t come as a surprise. After the emergency room closed, Marcelle said she “knew it would be downhill for Baton Rouge General from then on.”

“This is one of the best burn units there is,” she said. “For this to get taken out of my community saddens me.”

Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who represents a district that ends next to Baton Rouge General, said she’s concerned that removing the burn unit will further hurt Mid City. “This impacts the economic vitality of that area,” she said. “This is a viable part of Baton Rouge that needs to be revitalized, not have further services taken out.”

Alan Sager, director of the Health Reform Program at the Boston University School of Public Health, said the fact that Baton Rouge General is moving the burn unit shows the difficulty of running a hospital without a critical mass of core services, like an emergency room.

Moving burn units is expensive because of all the equipment involved. Burn victims are susceptible to infections, so special air-handling units are needed to avoid exposure to things in the air, Sager said.

“This is a capital cost that hospitals don’t undertake lightly,” he said.

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.