The health care industry is growing in Louisiana as elsewhere, and that trend promises to continue. New Orleans boasts an expanding biomedical presence, and the increasing health care sector in Baton Rouge is provoking more long-range planning for the complex of hospitals in the Essen Lane/Bluebonnet Boulevard area. It’s the capital region’s equivalent of the New Orleans development around a new Veterans Affairs and Charity Hospital.
Both areas are primed for growth, and each has tremendous assets that will provide not only better health outcomes but jobs and economic advantages for Louisiana.
That is why we welcome the intensive new planning process begun at the best of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation for the medical corridor around major hospitals and LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
A public meeting for input will kick off the planning process. It can provide a blueprint for improvements to the roads and infrastructure in the area — a gnarled mess, because of characteristically bad Baton Rouge street planning in past decades.
The plan also can look a decade or more down the road at new facilities or enhancements to existing physical plants. As is the nature of visionary planning, at first the sky ought to be the limit, but we hope that people don’t get too excited over the notion of adding a new medical school to the area.
The resources aren’t there for that, and we doubt that they will be in a decade or more.
In the dark days after Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of metropolitan New Orleans, there was some talk about moving LSU’s medical school to Baton Rouge or at least expanding medical education in Baton Rouge because of the risks to the city.
We were skeptical of that notion, in large part because of the huge costs of such a move. Still, we’re convinced that the discussion was not an anti-New Orleans conspiracy but reflected some of the underlying economics of the old Big Charity in the city having a declining patient base relative to Baton Rouge. Both LSU and Tulane universities now train physicians in Baton Rouge, a good thing for both institutions and for the capital city, and no threat to the existing schools in New Orleans.
A new medical school in Baton Rouge might not be an unreasonable idea given the growth in health care needs over the coming decades. Yet, we note that today there are tremendous unmet financial needs in LSU’s existing medical schools in New Orleans and Shreveport. Pennington’s world-class research into obesity, nutrition and genetics is starved for the operating funding because of state budget crises that have become worse in the past few years.
Visionary planning should not necessarily be tethered to today’s fiscal situation, but the failure of our state to support properly the institutions that it has suggests that realities ought to be taken into account.
We’ve got jewels today in medical facilities and biomedical research in southeast Louisiana. We ought to focus first on polishing them to their fullest potential.