When Baton Rouge General Medical Center announced last August it would be forced to close the emergency room at its Mid City campus because of financial troubles, the state came through with $18 million to help cover the hospital’s cost of providing uncompensated care to indigent patients at the ER.
At the time, hospital officials said the last-minute infusion of cash should keep the ER open through June while they worked to find a more permanent source of funding. But today, just four months later, the hospital announced it will be forced to permanently close the Mid City emergency room within 60 days.
According to hospital officials, losses at the ER totaled nearly $24 million last year and so far this year are averaging about $2 million per month.
Officials with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals say they’ve been working with hospital officials since last fall to come up with “a more sustainable model that wasn’t as reliant on a state subsidy for survival,” according to Calder Lynch, chief of staff at DHH.
“There were lots of discussions about potential options, and ultimately this is where we ended as the best path forward,” Lynch says. “Ultimately, we need to find a new model of care.”
That new model will apparently involve a concerted effort to drive more indigent patients to Our Lady of the Lake, which has a contract with the state to provide care to the state’s Medicaid and uninsured population, and also to identify other locations for service. Lynch notes that only about half of the ER visits to Baton Rouge General last year were legitimate emergencies. The other half were for illnesses that could have been treated at urgent care clinics.
The plans will include the expansion of the LSU Health Baton Rouge urgent care clinic on North Foster Drive, as well as the creation of a temporary clinic that will be located very near the Mid City campus and will serve the community once the ER closes, which is expected to be in April or May.
Today’s announcement came as a surprise to many, including longtime state Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, who says the news is “devastating” to the community.
Industry experts, however, say they’ve seen it coming for some time—a fact which didn’t make it any easier to swallow. Paul Salles, president of the Louisiana Hospital Association, says finding a “sustainable model” is a two-way street and that the state had a responsibility to do more.
“It’s not just the General’s responsibility to find a sustainable model but the state’s to identify a more sustainable way of providing services and care to some of our most needy citizens,” Salles says. “That is typically done through the Medicaid program.”
Salles fears more closures may be on the horizon—both to other emergency rooms around the state and perhaps even at Baton Rouge General’s acute care facility, which for now remains open.
On a frequently asked questions page set up on the hospital’s website today, a question asks if the acute-care hospital at Mid City campus will remain once the ER closes. The answer makes clear that while the institution remains open for now, everything is on the table.
“Thoughtful internal planning and community meetings regarding the realignment of services at the hospital—and its impact on staff—will take place throughout the coming months,” the statement reads.
When asked about the long-term future of the hospital, Lynch says it’s premature to speculate but adds, “we have to look at what is the most viable path forward.”