An eight-bed emergency room in north Baton Rouge could be open and seeing patients in a year from now, filling an emergency care void on the northern side of Baton Rouge as healthcare resources have shifted south over the past few years, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Our Lady of the Lake leaders said Wednesday.
As political, spiritual, business and community leaders celebrated the details of the emergency room plan at a news conference, many of them pointed to signs in front of Our Lady of the Lake's LSU Health clinic on Airline Highway that say "no emergency room." They said they could not wait for the signs to become obsolete, as Our Lady of the Lake Chief Executive Officer Scott Wester said he hopes to have the emergency room operational within 12 months.
The north Baton Rouge emergency room that residents and politicians made their rallying cry …
Edwards used the opportunity to defend state government's partnership with Our Lady of the Lake, to tout the benefits of Medicaid expansion and to quiet doubts about whether Our Lady of the Lake was completely committed to north Baton Rouge. He also touched on tensions that have recently simmered over lack of equitable resources between north and south Baton Rouge.
"With all of the things that rose out of the shooting of Mr. Sterling, followed by the police officers and sheriff's deputies who were shot, with flooding, I will tell you that it's time that we have a moment where we can celebrate," Edwards told a packed room of people in the urgent care facility. He was referring to the shooting death of Alton Sterling who was killed during a struggle with Baton Rouge police in July. That was followed by the shooting deaths of officers Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald and deputy Brad Garafola by an out-of-state gunman.
The state will give Our Lady of the Lake a one-time payment of $5.5 million to help build and staff the emergency room as part of their public-private partnership. The money is already available within the contract, as opposed to waiting for money to build the facility from the state's capital outlay budget.
Wester said the hospital will pay for any additional expenses in building and staffing the outlet. Wester said after the news conference that Our Lady of the Lake has been studying access to healthcare in north Baton Rouge, and recently decided this was the time to improve it, and he said Medicaid expansion has changed the dynamic of building in the area.
Months ago, Wester said that Our Lady of the Lake's urgent care clinics in north Baton Rouge were serving the community there well enough. He said then that the healthcare community has been trying to change people's mindsets away from always seeking emergency rooms and looking at urgent care and primary care instead, as they are less expensive and often more efficient ways of treating patients.
In a prayer Wednesday, Sister Helen Cahill of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady -- who run Our Lady of the Lake -- indicated that they were recently inspired to open the north Baton Rouge emergency room.
"You are a God of surprises, and never cease to open our eyes to new possibilities," Cahill prayed. "Be our guide and inspiration as we expand services to north Baton Rouge, to the emergency room in north Baton Rouge. May it be a source of hope and excitement for all."
Wester said Wednesday that Our Lady of the Lake "is in a different place than we were last year at this time."
"Without Baton Rouge General emergency room services, we really do have a void of emergency room service in north Baton Rouge," Wester said.
Baton Rouge General closed their Mid City emergency room in 2015 after losing too much money from treating an abundance of uninsured patients and having to eat the medical bills for them. Their closure followed a pattern of healthcare moving south in Baton Rouge, as the state shut down the LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center in 2013, which served north Baton Rouge.
It took ambulances carrying Baton Rouge patients two minutes longer on average to arrive at …
The $5.5 million Our Lady of the Lake receives for the emergency room will be in addition to the $112 million the state has agreed to give to the hospital in the fiscal year of 2017 as part of their agreement to take poor patients who previously would have gone to Earl K. Long.
A rendering of the Our lady of the Lake north Baton Rouge emergency department shows it will be adjacent to the urgent care clinic on Airline Highway.
Similar to Our Lady of the Lake's freestanding emergency room in Livingston, the one in north Baton Rouge will have several exam and treatment rooms, a trauma room, a psychiatric holding room and an OBGYN room. It will have both pedestrian and ambulance entrances.
Edwards and Department of Health Secretary Rebekah Gee both touted Medicaid expansion as helping to pave the way for plugging more people into healthcare services, including the north Baton Rouge emergency room. Edwards said Medicaid expansion is generating $184 million in savings this year, and that "many of these advancements" wouldn't have been possible without it.
Edwards was surrounded by legislators and community members who complimented his quickness in reaching the emergency room deal for north Baton Rouge. State Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said she originally did not believe the north Baton Rouge emergency room could be built this year given the state's precarious budget situation, and she credited Edwards' work.
But not everyone who pushed for an emergency room in north Baton Rouge believes the governor has made the right decision. As the news conference was taking place, Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel fired off a news release that claimed the governor "stole our vision for a full-service ER in north Baton Rouge and crafted it as his own."
In the spring, Banks-Daniel assembled a team called the #NBRNOW Blue Ribbon Commission to come up with solutions for economic development and healthcare in underserved north Baton Rouge. Her group started courting Champion Medical Center, a specialty surgical hospital near the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, whose owner company in Texas said they could build an emergency room in north Baton Rouge.
Champion executives said they would need $7 million over the next two years to build an emergency room and to help reimburse their payments. They asked for an additional expected $3.8 million a year in subsidies.
Banks-Daniel wrote in her news release that Champion was the only hospital provider to offer to open an emergency room in north Baton Rouge when Our Lady of the Lake and other hospital leaders were less inclined to do so. She also said the Champion plan was cheaper -- though Our Lady of the Lake is receiving a one-time payment of $5.5 million and Champion would have wanted $11.4 million over the first three years.
"In essence, the Governor’s administration stole our vision for north Baton Rouge and re-packaged it as their own," Banks-Daniel wrote in her news release. "This gives credence to the notion that white privilege, power, and position knows what is best for black communities and will do ANYTHING to advance."
Gary Chambers, a co-chair of the blue ribbon commission, asked the governor at his news conference why Edwards did not choose Champion and pointed out Our Lady of the Lake's past hesitancy to build in north Baton Rouge.
Edwards doubled down on the state's partnership with Our Lady of the Lake. He said it made sense to use Our Lady of the Lake, the state's built-in partner for healthcare, to build an emergency room instead of a for-profit company based in Texas.
"My commitment was to the people of Baton Rouge, not to any healthcare provider," Edwards said. "And I certainly looked at the proposal which came from Champion, which doesn't run an emergency room anywhere, doesn't have a transfer agreement in Baton Rouge, runs boutique specialty hospitals that typically do not take Medicaid, and has not been approved by CMS to deliver emergency room care."