Everyone should want to improve health care in north Baton Rouge, where the closure of an emergency room on Florida Boulevard raised public concerns.
But whatever improvements are undertaken must be financially responsible. We agree with Gov. John Bel Edwards that there are a lot of unknowns now, and the governor is right to seek assurances that improving health care access in the area is done correctly before committing to funding for a specific plan.
Some local officials have advocated for an emergency room to be added at Champion Medical Center, a specialty surgical hospital near Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. But the for-profit company that owns the hospital would require more than $7 million in subsidies over the next two years, while state government still is struggling to fund its existing hospitals.
Meanwhile, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center recently submitted a draft plan to the state’s Department of Health showing how it could expand emergency services at its north Baton Rouge urgent care centers. It’s unclear whether those services would cost the state more money than the hospital already receives as part of its public-private partnership to serve the poor.
Edwards said in late March he was “working very hard to get an emergency room back open in north Baton Rouge.” He reiterated his pledge Tuesday, though legislators said he told them Monday the state lacks the money for the Champion emergency room subsidy.
We believe both things are true and are not just a dodge. The state’s financial problems are severe. As the Champion request for a subsidy suggests, an emergency room is an expensive proposition.
And in terms of the evolution of health care, the city-parish has what we believe is high-quality service through its Emergency Medical Services Department and its Fire Department. Their advanced communications might allow people who need help but not the high-cost services of a full-fledged ER to be transported to enhanced urgent care facilities, along the lines of a proposal advanced by Our Lady of the Lake.
The Lake’s proposal is for an “advanced care center” at its extensive urgent care facility on Airline Highway, which the proposal says it would replicate on Florida Boulevard. The Lake would add 24/7 emergency physicians, expand lab services and participate in a pilot program in which ambulances could bring patients not in need of an emergency room to its urgent care clinic instead.
Either way, we think the governor is right that a decision should be carefully studied by the city-parish government and the Louisiana Department of Health before the state writes a big check. Health care delivery is in a period of change everywhere.
We regretted the loss of services in the area because of the closures of Baton Rouge General’s Mid City ER on Florida Boulevard in 2015 and the state’s Earl K. Long hospital in 2013.
However, the Lake-LSU partnership has a base to work with from its clinics on Airline, and that may be the more advanced model for the region to support.
We urge all concerned to work closely with the pros in health care before leaping into one model or the other. The governor’s caution is warranted.