Our Lady of the Lake North Emergency Room is set to open Nov. 15, which means that north Baton Rouge is just three weeks away from having its first emergency room in more than five years.
The new ER is expected to handle 10,000 to 15,000 visits a year, Lake Chief Operating Officer Terrie Sterling said. The facility will have more than 50 clinical and 20 support workers. Staffing levels will be adjusted to fit demand.
The ER is an 8,800-square-foot addition next to LSU Health Baton Rouge North Clinic, 5439 Airline Highway. The clinic provides urgent care, drug infusion services that include chemotherapy, as well as primary care.
The Lake broke ground on the long-awaited emergency room in late January. It will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by emergency physicians who specialize in providing comprehensive emergency care for patients with acute illnesses or injuries. The facility has eight treatment spaces and is able to provide patients with on-site X-ray imaging and more detailed CT scans, a full-service lab and pharmacy.
"I'm delighted. We all are delighted. I think it's a great benefit to the entire community…. It's important for people who live near there to have access to an emergency room, but it also relieves pressure on the emergency rooms that we already have," said Rene Singleton, one of the leaders of Together Baton Rouge, a faith-based advocacy group.
Rep. Edmond Jordan said the ER is a victory for north Baton Rouge, and he doesn't want to minimize that.
But at the same time, he plans to keep fighting to make sure everyone has equal access to care, meaning an actual hospital, throughout the region, Jordan said.
Singleton said the impressive thing about the ER is how elected officials, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, and the Lake stepped up to serve the community.
The state added $5.5 million to its public-private partnership agreement with the Lake to help build the facility. It will cost the Lake an estimated $7 million to $10 million a year to operate a free-standing emergency room, depending on patient volume.
North Baton Rouge has been without an emergency room since 2013 when the state closed Earl K. Long Medical Center, which provided care for the poor, in a cost-cutting move. Baton Rouge General closed its Mid City emergency department in 2015, citing losses of about $2 million a month in treating uninsured patients.
Walter Lane, who chairs the University of New Orleans' Department of Economics and Finance, said the Lake's contract with the state could help reduce those kinds of costs.
The Lake gets 100 percent of the cost of care for Medicaid patients, he said. At other hospitals, like Slidell Memorial Hospital where he is a board member, Medicaid pays about 65 percent of the cost of care.
The new ER may not make much money on those patients, but the business model is much more viable than it would be for other community hospitals, he said.
However, Sterling said the patient mix at the ER-adjacent clinic is similar to what the Lake sees at its main campus.
There are a lot of working people — most people get health insurance through their employer — in that area, she said. The Lake has thoroughly examined the potential costs and revenue for the new ER and is confident in its business plan.
Lane said payer mix is "a huge deal" for providers.
That's because private insurance pays a lot more than government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, he said. It varies by hospital, but Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, Humana and other private insurance policies generally pay about 140 percent of the cost of care.
Charging higher prices to privately insured patients is how hospitals offset the cost of caring for the uninsured and under-insured, he said.
Lyndean Lenhoff Brick, president and chief executive officer of Murer Consulting, said a lot of things aside from location determine whether an ER succeeds.
Contracts with insurers, the business model and patient volume all play a role, she said. Lots of times faith-based providers see emergency services as part of their mission.
Brick said she's not familiar with the Lake's business model, but it would be a good strategy to send patients who are not classified as true emergencies to a nearby primary care clinic.
Emergency care is so expensive because ERs are required by federal law to see everybody who comes through the doors, and many emergency room patients are just people who needed to go see a doctor, Brick said.
Our Lady of the Lake's north Baton Rouge emergency room should be treating patients ranging …