Advocate Photo by MARSHA SHULER -- David Hood, the former secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals, speaks at a rally Feb. 11 protesting the closure of the emergency room at the Baton Rouge General Mid-City Hospital. Members of the Baton Rouge legislative delegation, Republicans and Democrats, joined the effort and blamed the Jindal administration's policies for leading to the impending shutdown.

Baton General Hospital executives say plans to close their Mid City emergency room will proceed regardless of any alternatives legislative leaders, community activists and the Jindal administration develop.

“We respect the community’s constructive discussion and their desire to have emergency services in mid city,” said Mark Slyter, president and chief executive officer at Baton Rouge General/General Health System. “Sadly, the time has passed ... But we are moving forward thoughtfully and sensitively, remaining focused on taking care of our patients and staff for an effective transition.”

Meanwhile, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in south Baton Rouge and Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary are scurrying to come up with ways to handle what surely will be an increase of patients in their emergency rooms.

“It’s a good thing it’s not in the middle of flu season,” said Scott Wester, the president and CEO at the Lake.

“The biggest disappointment is not really about their decision. It’s more about the lack of planning or communication with other healthcare providers in the marketplace,” Wester said, adding that he learned of the decision the day before it was announced.

The General announced Feb. 4 that it would close its emergency room in 60 days, citing a loss of $2 million a month due to uninsured patients entering its doors. No firm date for closure has been announced.

The Mid City emergency room closure makes the second Baton Rouge emergency room to cease operations in two years. The LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center on Airline Highway in north Baton Rouge closed in April 2013. The Earl’s in-patient care and medical education programs are moving to the Lake, which is off Essen Lane in south Baton Rouge. The charity hospital’s shutdown increased the ER traffic at the General Mid City campus, the next closest urban hospital. Many of those patients were without insurance and could not afford to pay for the medical care.

Last year, the General reported 45,000 ER visits. Losses from $6 million to $7 million a year doubled prior to its closure to $12.5 million in 2013 and then to $23.8 million last year. The General’s board say the losses are endangering the financial stability of the rest of the hospital.

The state provided $18 million to the General when the hospital said it would have to close the ER because it was losing so much money. State officials said the hospital was supposed to develop a plan to make its operation sustainable and the money was to give it time to do that.

The Lake handled 108,000 emergency room visits last year. As part of its contract to takeover the LSU charity hospital in Baton Rouge, the Lake, unlike other area hospitals, receives 100 percent Medicaid reimbursement for providing care to the uninsured care unlike other area hospitals. The General has been trying for years to increase its funding, particularly for uninsured patients.

Wester said meetings are scheduled this week to go over options during the transition period.

The General is providing data such as zip codes of patients who used the ER, their age, the severity and type of their medical problems. “We are just starting to break down that information,” Wester said.

Information will help officials make decisions on where to expand “urgent care” services in the area. The idea of the clinics are to provide medical care for instances that are not life threatening and to identify injuries and conditions that require immediate, extraordinary and expensive treatment in an emergency room.

A similar LSU “urgent care” clinic, overseen by the Lake, was opened a few blocks down Airline Highway from the Earl and has worked well, Wester said. “We need to grow that neighborhood health care concept,” he said

The Lake established limited-hours, urgent care services at an LSU Mid City clinic late last year.

“We are looking at whether we have to increase the hours of operation at North Foster. We are fortunate to have it,” Wester said. “It’s only one-and-half minutes from Baton Rouge General Mid City.”

“We are still looking at alternative locations too,” said Wester.

Calder Lynch, chief of staff at the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said state agency is working with the Lake to “accelerate expansion” of urgent care access. “I can tell you this is one of our highest priorities,” he said.

Lynch said the Jindal administration has offered assurances that it will insert planning funds in the state construction budget for a new health care and urgent care clinic down the road.

“We did not expect them to come to the decision to close the ER that quickly,” Lynch said. “We thought we would have more time to work on this endeavor.”

Baton Rouge General CEO Slyter wrote in a letter: “We … support DHH’s leadership role in developing a plan with their state-funded partner hospital — Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.”

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