Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center has a lot going on these days, with mergers, construction and partnerships already completed or in development.
When an entity the Lake’s size takes a major step—much less several—the vibrations are going to be felt in the marketplace, though it’s a little early to know particulars.
Since September, the Lake has been involved in at least six transactions, beginning with the purchase of 192 acres at Interstate 12 and La. Highway 447 in Walker. The hospital later added 44 acres, and construction is scheduled to begin next year on physician offices and an outpatient services facility, for starters.
The Lake’s buying mood has not abated. In July, the hospital bought 4.7 acres on Perkins Road to expand its primary care network. In September, OLOL signed a deal to purchase the Surgical Specialty Center on Bluebonnet Boulevard. And in December, it purchased a 43,000-square-foot office building on Perkins Road near Kenilworth Parkway to centralize IT functions.
Earlier this month, the Lake announced the purchase of two office buildings on Brittany Drive as part of its “long-term strategy” and the purchase of 58 acres south of I-10 between Essen Lane and Bluebonnet Boulevard. Hospital officials say there are no plans for that property yet, though the Lake has launched a fundraising campaign to build a freestanding children’s hospital.
And construction continues as part of a facilities improvement plan, including upgrades to the St. Mary’s Tower lobby, five state-of-the-art operating rooms and a new patient pick-up and drop-off area.
But the biggest recent news is a proposed partnership with LSU in which OLOL would absorb the teaching and patient care duties of Earl K. Long Medical Center, the city’s charity hospital. LSU approached the Lake in late August, inquiring as to whether the hospital would be “willing to look at expanding medical education,” OLOL CEO Scott Wester says.
The deal is still in its earliest stages but promises to dramatically change how public health care and medical education is conducted in Baton Rouge.
“We’re not just trying to do a small reform strategy in Baton Rouge,” Wester says. “This potentially could be very large.”
A lot of questions have yet to be answered about what that partnership would look like, though LSU would not have governance responsibility or a seat in medical leadership, Wester says. The relationship LSU and the Lake are discussing is a major redesign of health care delivery for this region, he says. It won’t be simple. There are lots of variables and complexity—among them funding and space issues.
It isn’t clear how much additional square footage, beds, operating rooms and such the hospital will need to accommodate LSU and its faculty, and those factors are being analyzed, Wester says.
The number of residency programs, which train future doctors, could increase, he says. EKL has 75 residents and the Lake about 40 that rotate through the hospital from EKL or New Orleans. Also, the Lake is talking with Tulane University about additional residencies and even wants to develop some of its own; the first would be a pediatrics residency program.
“In five to 15 years from now, the academic portion of Our Lady of the Lake could be pretty large to the degree that … people will see this a major teaching facility—not just in Baton Rouge, but it could be something that rivals other very large facilities: the Baylors, the Emorys, M.D. Anderson-type models,” Wester says.
Big changes make people nervous. Anyone wondering what absorbing EKL’s indigent care and teaching mission will do to the Lake’s traditional mission shouldn’t worry, he says.
“One thing we do know for sure: The Lake will be the Lake,” Wester says. “That’s something we can’t forget about it. The LSU faculty has a population that is predominantly Medicaid and uninsured.
“They need a house for their patients. That’s what we’re looking at. But there needs to be an understanding in the Baton Rouge community that these patients that are uninsured or underinsured, Medicaid, exist in all of our facilities currently. We’re already serving this population.”
Teri McNorton, vice president of marketing and communications for Baton Rouge General Medical Center, says her people don’t have enough information about the LSU-Lake deal to guess what the impact will be on the General or the people who get their care at EKL. She’s glad LSU has dropped plans for a new hospital, though, something General officials never favored.
“We do agree that it’s not necessary to construct a new charity hospital in Baton Rouge,” McNorton says. “With the hospital construction that’s taken place in the past couple of years, there are certainly enough hospital beds in the city.”
Without EKL in the picture, it’s conceivable that the hospital’s Mid City campus could see an increase in Medicaid and indigent patients in its emergency room—of whom there already are plenty.
“Our primary concern is patients,” McNorton says. “People in the region need access to care, particularly emergency care. Our concern is that all people in all geographical areas have access to emergency care.”
John Matessino, president of the Louisiana Hospital Association, says that while Baton Rouge area hospitals “are staying pretty busy all the time,” the average daily patient count at EKL is only about 60 patients—not so many to absorb.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what that does to patient flow,” he says. “I don’t think that number of patients will greatly alter the flow that much or have that much of an impact.”
Julie Madere, marketing and community relations director for Lane Regional Medical Center, says the deal will leave Lane as the lone hospital in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish, with nothing to compel former EKL patients to go to the Lake.
“Our concern is this will substantially increase the number of charity patients and Medicaid patients that come to Lane without substantially increasing our funding from the state,” she says. “We simply cannot afford an increase of charity and Medicaid patients and continue to receive less than 70% of our costs.”
As for the Lake’s Livingston Parish development, Matessino calls it smart strategic planning move. Mitch Wasden, CEO of Ochsner Medical Center-Baton Rouge, says the Livingston facility would definitely draw away some patients from Ochsner—the two hospitals would be eight miles apart—though a lot of Ochsner’s patients come from doctors employed by Ochsner or through physicians in the immediate area.
“Until you know what services they’re putting there, it’s really hard to know,” Wasden says.
He applauds the partnership between LSU and the Lake.
“We see that as a good thing,” Wasden says. “Basically it shows a model to the rest of the state of how you can handle charity care using the community providers without having to have a dedicated hospital.”
BUY, BUY, BUY
Transactions involving Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center since September 2007:
September 2007: Our Lady of the Lake announces the purchase of 192 acres at Interstate 12 and La. Highway 447 in Walker with plans to expand services in Livingston Parish; OLOL later buys 44 acres for a total of 236
July 2008: Our Lady of the Lake announces the purchase of 4.7 acres on Perkins Road to expand its primary care network
September 2008: Our Lady of the Lake signs a deal to purchase the Surgical Specialty Center on Bluebonnet Boulevard
December 2008: Our Lady of the Lake purchases a 43,000-square-foot office building on Perkins Road near Kenilworth Parkway to centralize its IT functions
January 2009: Our Lady of the Lake announces the purchase of two office buildings on Brittany Drive as part of the hospital’s “long-term strategy”
January 2009: Our Lady of the Lake announces the purchase of 58 acres along the south side of Interstate 10 between Essen Lane and Bluebonnet Boulevard; hospital officials say they have no plans for the land at this time, but speculation centers on a children’s hospital, expansion of the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, a teaching hospital in partnership with LSU or a mixed-use medical development