BR Health District could include a medical school, diabetes center

Stakeholders working to create a collaborative medical district are pursuing four specific initiatives, including a medical school offering joint degree programs.

Speaking to Prospect Baton Rouge this morning, John Spain, executive vice president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, said the group—which includes hospitals, research institutions and other health-care providers—wants consultants to develop business plans for a potential medical school campus, a Baton Rouge Diabetes and Obesity Center, a post-acute care integration program and a clinical trials consortium for what is now officially the Baton Rouge Health District.

The district is concentrated along Bluebonnet Boulevard and Essen Lane. FuturEBR, the parish master plan, identified the medical corridor as one of six targeted growth areas. In 2013, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation hired consulting firm Perkins+Will to make recommendations for how to develop the district, which would be patterned after those in other major urban areas, like the Texas Medical Center in Houston or the Memphis Medical Center.

Under discussion is a medical school campus for Baton Rouge designed to attract the best students to Louisiana by offering joint-degree programs. Those enrolled could, for example, earn medical and law degrees, or a medical degree and a master’s degree in business administration, or medical and engineering degrees for those interested in developing the next generation in medical technology. Such a program, Spain said, would distinguish it from LSU’s existing medical campuses in New Orleans and Shreveport.

“It’s time for a third full-blown medical school here, but not at the expense of New Orleans and Shreveport,” Spain told those at the Leadership Baton Rouge event today, held at the Main Library. “This is not just a four-year medical school we’re talking about here. It’s so much more.”

Also under consideration is the Baton Rouge Diabetes and Obesity Center, which would act as a one-stop shop for those with the chronic condition. Physicians could refer their patients to the center for a multitude of diabetes-related services, filling an existing market gap for primary and preventative care and tapping into ongoing research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Spain said consultants have estimated such a facility could save $30 million annually in health care costs.

“The end result would be that patients get a better level of service,” he said. “Can Baton Rouge become the diabetes treatment center in the nation, with people coming here to get treatment? It’s big, and it will take us some time.”

Other projects on the table are a post-acute care integration program designed to reduce readmission rates, and a clinical trials consortium, which Spain said could result in $3.6 million in income in year five of the project.

Stakeholders also are exploring options to transform the district into a more accessible and walkable campus. One of the ideas under consideration is creating a new north/south roadway tentatively named “Midway Boulevard” running parallel with and roughly halfway between Essen Lane and Bluebonnet Boulevard to connect Baton Rouge General Medical Center to the health district.

BRAF and the other entities involved are in the process of raising money to develop business plans for the priority projects. While a medical school likely will take years to come to fruition, Spain said, the other three initiatives could materialize as early as three to five years after a business plan is developed. ­

—Penny Font

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