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The five-story building in The Grove sits on a 25-acre plot, spans 255,000 square feet and includes a 10-bed hospital and surgical center. 

Ochsner Health System plans to begin paying for the medical education of 30 doctors this summer, its first cohort, who would commit to working at the health system for at least five years.

Warner Thomas, CEO of Ochsner Health System, shared the plan and discussed an eastward expansion of the health system through partnerships on Wednesday at the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge.

"We're going to pay their medical school way if they make a five-year commitment to stay in Louisiana and practice at Ochsner," Thomas said of primary care physicians and those who seek to practice psychiatry. 

Ochsner expects to do the same thing with current employees looking to grow from a medical assistant to a licensed practical nurse or from an LPN to a registered nurse. The total amount set aside for these tuition programs is roughly $10 million, the CEO said. 

"It's a tight labor market. Last year, Ochsner in agency labor in nursing spent $20 million."

Thomas said the program is "the right thing to do" and enables existing employees or new employees to build their careers. The company expects in coming years to have about 1,000 employees in these programs. 

The first cohort of 30 doctors is just the start. The goal is to target Louisiana residents going to college at LSU Shreveport or in later stages at LSU New Orleans. "Then we'll ramp it up from there," Warner said. 

Ochsner Health System sees more than 876,000 patients across system in Louisiana and employs more than 26,000 individuals.

"We've grown pretty substantially over the past couple of years," Thomas said. "I get asked a lot, 'Why is Ochsner growing?' It's because patients are choosing to come see us; it's not building facilities and then the patients come. We're really trying to keep up with growth."

Its largest single investment was the five-story Ochsner Medical Complex that opened last year inside of The Grove in Baton Rouge, with a $116 million price tag in a growing market for the system.

As far as future investments, expect the organization to ink more partnerships across the Southeast. 

“We continue to move east," Thomas said. "We built our first significant partnership with Rush Hospital in Meridian (Mississippi) and you’ll see more happen east of us here in the next year or two as we continue to build relationships east of Louisiana,” he said. 

Ochsner inked a strategic partnership in September with Rush Health Systems, which operates seven hospitals. The  network spans across Mississippi and Alabama and is getting access to electronic health information software and telemedicine technology used by Ochsner. The technologies allow patients to view and schedule appointments, communicate with health professionals, request prescription refills and review laboratory results online. 

In December 2019, Ochsner became the first health care provider to join technology startup Hims & Hers, which sells telemedicine services to the public in Florida and will roll out in other states this year. Ochsner is slated to provide the clinician expertise for the startup's customers, who are trying to manage chronic illnesses and more than a dozen common conditions remotely.

"It's not that we're blazing a trail; it's that we're trying to keep up with other industries about what they are doing," Warner said. 

Ochsner also expects to access another technology startup, Unite Us, an online portal that enables patients to access health care and social service resources such as housing, food, education and career opportunities — in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport to start. Providing such "social determinants of care" can help patients stay healthy and avoid re-admission to a hospital. 

Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.