Earl K Long Hospital to close in April

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- The LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center along Airline Highway in north Baton Rouge is reducing services because of employee attrition as the facility gets closer to its April 15 closure.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- The LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center along Airline Highway in north Baton Rouge is reducing services because of employee attrition as the facility gets closer to its April 15 closure.

LSU is moving up the date for the closure of Earl K. Long Medical Center located in north Baton Rouge, LSU System Executive Vice President Frank Opelka said Thursday.

The hospital will close in mid-April instead of November as originally planned under an agreement where patient care and medical education programs are move to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, known locally as ‘the Lake,’ said Opelka, who is in charge of LSU’s 10 public hospitals.

Employees are being notified pursuant to state Civil Service rules, he said. But LSU has yet to officially submit a plan for Civil Service approval, according to the state Department of Civil Service.

“The Lake is interested in every one of them applying,” Opelka said of the employees.

When the Earl K. Long facility on Airline Highway in north Baton Rouge closes, the emergency department will move into modified space at a clinic nearby until an urgent care center, which is under construction on the same property, is finished later this year, Opelka said.

Too many employees are leaving Earl K. Long, often referred to as EKL, and other hospitals where public-private partnerships are under negotiation, Opelka said. Efforts are under way to get the agreements finalized sooner to create a more certain job picture, he said.

Opelka made the comments after he, state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein and LSU System President William Jenkins appeared Thursday before a Louisiana House committee to update legislators on the progress of negotiations involving private operation of other LSU hospitals.

LSU and the Lake already have a cooperative endeavor agreement reached more than two years ago. That agreement is currently undergoing new negotiations, including the addition of LSU clinics to the equation.

Agreements are in development with private nonprofit hospitals for lease arrangements for operating four other LSU hospitals in Lafayette, New Orleans, Houma and Lake Charles. The private hospitals are going to need those employees who already work there as they take over, Opelka said.

“Partners are keen on keeping all employees in the partnership,” he told the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee.

Opelka said the seven LSU hospitals in south Louisiana have experienced a serious drop in employees since July 2011, when there were about 6,700 employees. Now there are 5,400 employees, he said.

“We can see this here in Baton Rouge with EKL ... This is a high concern for all of us,” Opelka said.

He said LSU’s original time line called for cooperative endeavor agreements by April or May. “As we see these reductions, we are trying to accelerate this,” he said. “The faster we make this transition, the sooner we stabilize the workforce.”

State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, grilled Greenstein and Opelka on patient care, prisoner care and general financing issues involved as EKL closes.

Greenstein said federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approval is still required “on certain financing arrangements” such as setting the rates for reimbursement for Medicaid services and uninsured care to be paid the private hospitals.

Barrow also said she is concerned that uninsured women are not getting the care they need through a side agreement under which Woman’s Hospital takes over obstetrics and gynecological care that the Lake does not perform.

Opelka said he would investigate the matter.

Opelka said LSU has a lot of “challenges with prisoner care and it’s across all facilities.” The Lake agreement does not include prisoner care that has been provided at EKL.

“We are expanding prisoner care capability at Lallie Kemp so we can provide more,” Opelka said, referring to the LSU hospital in Independence. “We are talking to corrections about delivering more care at the (prison) site rather than transporting prisoners. We are asking all our partners to do something.” LSU is in discussions with the Lake to amend its agreement to include prisoners in need of critical care services, he said.

State Reps. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, and Thomas Willmott, R-Kenner, sought assurances that the state is being protected in the cooperative endeavor agreements.

Jackson noted the volatility of the state’s finances, which has prompted regular budget cuts in health care.

“Will expenditures be capped?” Jackson asked.

“At this point no,” Greenstein said. “As we write the cooperative endeavor agreements, we give the department flexibility in adjusting payments” to the private hospitals.

Jackson said the cap should be a part of the agreements. “I don’t want to have us obligated to have to find money at some point because we are contractually obligated,” she said.

Willmott asked about state legal liabilities in the new arrangement.

“Partners have their own liability,” Opelka said. He said LSU is responsible for the clinical care delivery in the facilities.