Shortly after sunrise Monday, Scott Wester, president of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, stepped to the front of the “huddle” and announced the transition was over.
The “huddle” is a staff meeting that Lake officials use to start every day’s work.
On Monday, Lake officials were indoctrinating their new colleagues, who were hired with the closing of the LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center on Sunday night.
After a short prayer and a quick update — the Lake’s facilities around the Baton Rouge area started the morning with 471 patients and had scheduled 42 surgeries — the Earl K. Long charity hospital officially closed and the doors officially opened on the new LSU Health Baton Rouge Urgent Care Center in north Baton Rouge.
Four patients were waiting.
About the same time in south Baton Rouge, as part of the same transition, LSU physicians-in-training met for their first “morning report” as they began clinical rotations at the Lake facility off Essen Lane.
Dr. George Karam, LSU chief of internal medicine, led the residents as they explored potential reasons for the “unsteady gait” exhibited by a 54-year-old man who had presented himself for treatment.
“This is a new beginning for all of us,” said Laurinda Calongne, the Lake’s chief academic officer, as she welcomed the LSU contingent.
The Lake already had 57 residents, or physicians-in-training. With the LSU transfer, the number swelled to 136 on Monday “and at full capacity there will be 160 residents rotating in and out,” Calongne said.
The medical care and training that had been provided at the Earl K. Long facilities, which opened March 5, 1968, is now being done by the Lake, a hospital system run by the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady. The transition has been underway for three years and is the result of a public-private agreement.
The Lake assumed operations of five outpatient clinics, including a surgery center and a pharmacy, which all operate under the name LSU Health Baton Rouge. The Lake also is now the clinical site for LSU’s Baton Rouge-based physician training and graduate medical education programs.
According to the Lake, about 350 employees have been hired to work in the out-patient clinics and at the hospital. About 90 percent of the new hires are former LSU Earl K. Long employees.
LSU laid off 777 employees with the closure of the Earl K. Long facility and transfer of clinic operations to the Lake.
The city-parish emergency medical services dispatcher announced to police officers and medical personnel at 8:19 p.m. Sunday that the Earl K. Long emergency room was no longer accepting transports.
The last Earl K. Long hospital patient was sent home 10 days ago, according to LSU Health Care Services Division spokesman Marvin McGraw.
The new Urgent Care Center, which will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is at 5439 Airline Highway at McClelland Drive, about a block or so north of the now-closed Earl K. Long hospital. No appointments are required for the walk-in clinic, which was built by the state.
Lake CEO Wester said the Earl K. Long emergency room averaged about 80 to 100 patients per day, about 95 percent of whom were treated and released.
The urgent care center will handle minor illnesses and injuries, the flu, fevers, some broken bones, strains and sprains, ear aches and coughs. More serious injuries, chest pains, convulsions, severe bleeding and other life-threatening emergencies will be sent to an emergency room from the Urgent Care Center.
“It’s what sits between the doctor’s office and the emergency room,” said Catherine Harrell, director of corporate communications for the Lake.
Removing patients with everyday maladies from the emergency room setting results in more efficient and less costly medical care, said Dr. Kevin DiBenedetto, who came over from the Lake After Hours Clinic to help at the north Baton Rouge Urgent Care Center. Non-emergency patients often had to wait four or five hours for medical care in a hospital’s emergency room, he said.
“You can move the patients faster,” DiBenedetto said about the clinic. “They’re seen in a more timely manner.”
At the end of the day, Kathy Kleibert, interim secretary at the state Department of Health and Hospitals, released a prepared statement saying 27 patients who would have otherwise gone to the Earl K. Long facility received care from the Lake.
“Individuals who previously relied on Earl K. Long are no longer confined to a separate tier of health care …,” Kleibert said.