WASHINGTON —As the shutdown of LSU’s Earl K. Long Medical Center in northern Baton Rouge occurred and patients made the trip to private clinics, so too did U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy.
The Republican congressman from Baton Rouge was a longtime physician and liver specialist at the Earl K. Long facility when he won election. Cassidy has continued to see patients part-time since he’s been in Congress.
This past week, he saw his first patients at his new clinic in an “attractive office” near Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.
Cassidy has announced he will challenge U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., for her Senate seat next year and he will spend more time campaigning. But, Cassidy said he would continue to see patients and teach medical students as much as he can.
“I love to teach, I love medicine and I love helping people,” Cassidy said, noting that he always hands out his congressional business cards to his patients so they can contact his office for non-medical needs.
“Most (patients) do not normally get to meet their congressman and most don’t have the means to fly to Washington,” Cassidy said, calling his work as a doctor extra outreach to constituents, especially those on Medicaid.
But Cassidy also recognizes that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to shutter or privatize LSU’s public hospitals, including facility employees called “the Earl,” was controversial. With Earl K. Long facility closing last month, most of its inpatient care was picked up by Our Lady of the Lake. More than 770 LSU employees were laid off, although Our Lady of the Lake officials said they hired more than 300 new workers.
Jindal opted to close the Earl K. Long facility rather than build a new replacement hospital. Essentially, he preferred privatizing in order to cut costs and move away from what he considered an outdated public hospital system.
Cassidy worked at “the Earl” for about two decades and developed a lot of “camaraderie” there.
“Do I have some mixed emotions? Absolutely,” Cassidy said.
The Earl K. Long had an “incredibly noble” mission of helping the underserved, Cassidy said. But over the years the patient lines continued to get longer and the medical center was “continually starved of resources,” he said.
“It often felt like it was our team against the world,” Cassidy added.
Politically, Cassidy opposes too much government-run health care and he also backs the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare.
“It’s a really complicated set of issues,” Cassidy said. “One of the problems I have with government-run health care is when the government runs health care, the people don’t have power.”
Cassidy said he is optimistic the Our Lady of the Lake facilities will offer better patient care. “I’d prefer to be more optimistic than less,” he said.
Cassidy was making about $20,000 a year through LSU seeing patients part time, according to his last financial disclosing.
Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, said it makes political sense for Cassidy to continue seeing patients, regardless of his motivations.
“Just as a purely political issue, the more he can be seen as a doctor and less as a politician he’s better off,” Goidel said. “He’s seen as more caring.”
That aspect of Cassidy could help with moderates, Goidel said, joking that maybe Cassidy should start combining town hall events with giving free physical assessments.