I have actively supported and volunteered with Together Baton Rouge, a citizen-based group, ever since early 2012, when the group campaigned for the dedicated transit tax. Every initiative TBR has championed thus far, most notably against the St. George breakaway and as a current community partner for SmokefreeBR, has had my endorsement.
There is no denying the tremendous positive influence the group has had on the Baton Rouge community. Many of its members I consider my friends, and many of them also are my constituents. However, I do not support the health care district proposed by Together Baton Rouge.
Though the data TBR used to quantify the lack of health care in north Baton Rouge is accurate, a health care district will not remedy the circumstances. The only way to address the health care deficit is infrastructure, facilities and providers. The proposed health care district will allow these improvements, but there is no indication this is TBR’s stated purpose.
All of the above can be obtained without a health care district. A health care district should not be an empty shell; it should have current medical assets, like a hospital. Whether large or small, a health care district is a means to achieve an equitable, efficient and effective health system based on the principles of the primary health care approach.
The approval of a health care district allows it to be a special taxing entity. Without council or legislative approval, TBR via the health care district can bring before the voters a property tax. This health care district could generate between $5 million and $10 million dollars annually. Where is the existing hospital or existing collaborative medical services it would fund?
Many of our residents are senior citizens. They are being told a hospital could take years to build. What are the chances of our elderly residents personally benefiting from this measure, based on the justifications indicated on the TBR petition?
The TBR district boundaries will virtually have taxing ability on every middle class subdivision in north Baton Rouge. Another funding source that could finance the proposed north TBR district is patients. Many of the residents in north Baton Rouge are Medicare/Medicaid eligible. But neither Medicare nor Medicaid are reliable funding streams.
Since the closing of Earl K. Long Charity Hospital, former Gov. Bobby Jindal turned over management of LSU’s hospitals to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. However, when the administration drafted its proposed $24 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1, the dollars came up far short of requirements.
OLOL officials have been compelled to threaten cancellation of the contract if the state fails to provide enough money to run the charity facilities. This is the same market for the proposed north health care district.
TBR would certainly look to state and federal funding sources. We all know that Louisiana is in financial distress. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals recently developed two reduction plans in an effort to cut $131 million in state funds. According to Gov. John Bel Edwards, DHH alone will see cuts in order to fill the remaining $70 million shortfall in the state budget for fiscal year 2015-16.
Suppose the proposed north health care district is approved by the Metro Council. This will certainly renew interest in the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s south Baton Rouge health care district. It is naïve for anyone to think two health care districts can exist in Baton Rouge equitably.
Most federal funding requires matching dollars. BRAF has a $600 million dollar purse to meet that requirement.
I respect Together Baton Rouge’s effort to address the health care disparities that exist in north Baton Rouge. I have discussed with members of the TBR Executive Team my concerns for a couple of months.
Also, I have given at least one member the names of professionals who would have been glad to advise them on their plan regarding these concerns.
However, TBR decided to forge on without any adjustments to its plan.
A health care district can be established with 25 signatures from homeowners in the proposed boundary absent council approval. Residents should be leery that the TBR north Baton Rouge health care district campaign has a goal of 5,000 signatures and council approval.
Chauna Banks is a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council representing District 2.