A community group Thursday sought help from Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in efforts to preserve emergency medical services in Mid City.
About 50 members of Together Baton Rouge gathered at the Lake, where they delivered a letter addressed to its Chief Executive Officer Scott Wester.
The activity occurred as Baton Rouge General Mid City prepares to close its emergency room at 7 a.m. March 31, citing mounting red ink related to higher volumes of uninsured patients.
The General already has begun replacing some of its ER signage with smaller, temporary signs that can be more readily taken down when the ER shuts down.
“Why are we engaging the Lake on these matters and not Baton Rouge General or our governor? We are doing all three,” said the Rev. Rick Andrus, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church. “But we do believe that the Lake is in the best position to take the lead on developing solutions.”
Andrus noted the Lake’s “mission to serve the least of these” as well as its public-private partnership with LSU and the state, which provides it with funding for uninsured care. Under a cooperative endeavor agreement, the Lake gets 100 percent reimbursement for uninsured care as it became home to LSU’s medical education programs and patients formerly seen at its now-closed Earl K. Long Medical Center.
“They are in the driver’s seat, not the General,” the Rev. Lee Wesley, pastor of Community Bible Baptist Church, told the gathering group.
Andrus and Wesley were among the ministers signing a three-page letter that made several requests of Lake officials.
A key request is that the Lake “propose and embrace” a redistribution of funding for uninsured care so that the dollars follow the patient.
The group also wants the Lake to take the lead in developing a proposal for what it would take to assure continued or restoration of emergency medical services in Mid City, “even if that turns out to be a plan for which all the necessary resources are not yet identified.”
In its partnership role, the Lake also should be “providing care for the uninsured, within the capacity of the hospital, beyond the fixed population of former Earl K. Long-LSU patients and taking on formal responsibility for prisoner care.”
Catherine Harrell, the Lake’s vice president of marketing and communication, said a March 27 meeting already has been set up between Wester and Together Baton Rouge leaders.
“We know that’s what they want to talk about,” Harrell said.
In response to the ER closure, the Lake already has moved to expand the hours of the LSU Health urgent care clinic located on North Foster Drive in Mid City. The expanded hours go into effect Monday. More services also will be delivered at LSU Health’s 24-hour urgent care operation on Airline Highway in north Baton Rouge.
The General has embarked on a community and patient outreach effort to help people understand how they can access emergency services after its ER closes. The hospital reported that 4,500 letters and digital messages have gone out, including to church leaders, nonprofit organizations, health care providers, schools, businesses and residents. More than 20,000 automated phone messages are expected to go out to area residents next week.
Later in the day, another group — LA Democracy Project — went to the General to protest the ER closure.
LA Democracy executive director Stephanie Anthony pled with “those who are in charge to allocate the funds so this unit will be not be disassembled.”
“We are looking for that money....It does not make sense for the capital city to have an emergency room in nothing but the suburbs,” said Anthony, who heads the grass-roots advocacy group.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration provided $18 million last year to keep the emergency room open after the General said it would close because of losses hitting $2 million a month. The idea was to give the General time to come up with a plan to keep it open long term. But no plan developed, and the administration did not provide additional funds.
General Mid City officials have said efforts to keep the ER open are futile and the decision has been made.