Health care officials Friday announced plans to expand urgent care clinics to help with the impact of a Baton Rouge hospital’s decision to close its emergency room.

State health Secretary Kathy Kliebert said Baton Rouge-area hospitals should have enough emergency room capacity to absorb the volume after the Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City Campus closes its emergency room March 31. But the Jindal administration also hopes to expand the hours of urgent care clinics to handle some of the patients with less critical conditions.

State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, in whose district the General Mid City campus sits, said the increased urgent care hours will help.

“I applaud them for what they have done, but it still does not fill the void,” Dorsey-Colomb said. And she questioned claims of adequate emergency room coverage in the Baton Rouge area.

The hours of operation of LSU Health’s Mid City urgent care clinic will be increased to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week beginning March 23.

The current hours are 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The existing health care clinic added urgent care capacity last December.

The clinic is located on North Foster Drive about 1.5 miles from the General’s Mid City campus.

LSU Health’s 24-hour North Campus Urgent Care Clinic on Airline Highway also will add hours during which advanced diagnostic services such as CT scans and MRIs are available.

Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center also is expanding other clinic access based on its analysis of emergency room visit volume data from the General.

About 80 percent of the General’s Mid City ER visits were for more medical problems that weren’t life threatening. Because of the level of personnel and equipment needed to save someone’s life is substantial, emergency rooms are very expensive. Urgent care facilities are aimed handling those patients whose conditions aren’t severe. They treat various illnesses, like the flu and eye or ear infections, as well as some less severe injuries, like sprains or strains, possible broken bones or minor burns. Those common ailments often result in unnecessary emergency room visits.

The General saw a dramatic increase in the numbers of people, many of whom couldn’t pay, at its Mid City emergency room after LSU closed its charity hospital in north Baton Rouge, Earl K. Long Medical Center, known locally as the Earl. General officials said earlier this month that the ER would close because of mounting red ink caused by the increased numbers of uninsured patients. The General’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Slyter said losses were running $2 million a month.

A plan was released after a Wednesday meeting to discuss strategies for addressing the General Mid City’s ER closure. Participating in the meeting were Jindal administration officials as well as representatives of the Lake, the General, Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary, Ochsner Medical Center-Baton Rouge, Woman’s Hospital and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

Excluding the General’s Mid City ER, Baton Rouge-area hospitals have the capacity to handle more than 278,000 visits per year. Last year, area hospitals handled about 264,000 visits. The General’s Mid City emergency room handled about 120 patients a day. The hope is that many of those Mid City patients will instead use the urgent care clinic located in the area.

The Lake, which is home to LSU’s in-patient care and medical education programs, has taken the lead in efforts to fill the void left once the emergency room closes. The Lake also manages LSU Health’s out-patient clinics in Baton Rouge.

As part of its agreement with LSU and the state, the hospital receives 100 percent Medicaid reimbursement for the cost of caring for patients who have no insurance.

The hospital, located off Essen Lane in south Baton Rouge, recently completed expansion of its emergency room capacity for adults from 38 to 60 beds. It is also in the process of adding 12 beds dedicated to mental health patients, which are expected to be available by June. Mental health patients frequently end up in emergency rooms for treatment.

According to the news release, the General is evaluating an eight-to 10-bed increase in its ER capacity at its Bluebonnet campus, if necessary.

Hospital officials are reportedly working on “fast tracking admissions processes that allow for staff physicians and area nursing homes to directly admit their patients” to the General’s hospitals in midcity and off Bluebonnet Boulevard, without going through the emergency room.

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