The Rev. Kenneth McKnight, of the GFL Cathedral Church of God in Christ, said he hopes a new medical center in Howell Place will encourage his congregation to stay healthy.

"We serve a predominantly Black population and people of color are often looking for services that are nearby and affordable, with this facility opening it's a win-win for us," McKnight said. "It's only a stone's throw away." 

Inside the renovated medical center is the Ochsner Community Health Brees Family Center, a new 5,000-square-foot primary care health clinic, which opened Tuesday. 

The center is named after its main donor's nonprofit, the Brees Dream Foundation, created by retired New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany. 

The Baton Rouge location is expected to serve 10,000 patients in its first year. The clinic has doctors and nurses offering primary care for preventive health care alongside social and mental health services. It has 10 exam rooms, a registration area, laboratory and X-ray services.

It's one of the medical providers inside the 76,000-square-foot New Era Medical Complex near the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. 

Other tenants inside the New Era Medical Complex already serving customers are Capital Area Human Services and The Louisiana Center for Eyes. Oceans Behavioral Hospital expects to open its 40-bed hospital and outpatient behavioral services operation soon, taking up about 35,000 square feet.

New Era Companies, based in Grapevine, Texas, acquired the property and building for $7.2 million. Tenants have invested several million more for renovations to retrofit the 15-year-old facility. 

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"When we start to see things like this come to life and get into operating mode, it generates interest from others. We'd like to see this become a hub for other development. There's vacant land around here which could be something else like restaurants," said Michael Arvin, executive vice president of strategy and development for New Era Companies.

The Howell Place hospital opened in 2005 and was operated by Cambridge Healthcare Management Inc. of Dallas as a 10-bed surgical hospital until 2012.

There's been a dearth of medical care in North Baton Rouge for years but that's been slowly changing. 

In 2013, LSU closed its Earl K. Long hospital along Airline Highway near Greenwell Street just east of Plank Road in north Baton Rouge. In 2015, Baton Rouge General closed its Mid-City campus emergency room, which has since reopened as a surge center for coronavirus patients and expects to be renovated soon. In 2017, Our Lady of the Lake North Emergency Room opened along Airline Highway adjacent to LSU Health Baton Rouge North Clinic near Plank Road. 

That same year, Champions Medical Center at Howell Place closed after struggling to obtain a subsidy from East Baton Rouge Parish and lack of eligibility to accept Medicaid patients alongside financial and legal issues at its Texas hospitals. 

Ochsner Health System had operated Ochsner Health Center Harding, a primary care office at the Howell Place building, but it closed years ago after the doctor relocated to a clinic closer to patients in Plaquemine.

East Baton Rouge Parish allocated $100,000 from its community development funds to support the new clinic. 

The new health clinic is among 15 clinics Ochsner is investing in across the state over the next three years. A similar center Ochsner opened in New Orleans East several months ago has seen 2,000 patients since then. A second health clinic in Baton Rouge in an undecided location is expected to be announced soon. 


Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.