Baton Rouge General to close its Mid City emergency room

The Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City will close its emergency room within the next 60 days, a victim of continuing red ink and the Jindal administration withdrawing the financial support that kept it open.

“We’ve left no stone unturned as we’ve sought solutions that would allow us to keep the Mid-City ER open,” Mark Slyter, president and chief executive officer at Baton Rouge General, said Tuesday. “Though closing Mid City ER doors, the care and commitment to our Midcity community remains strong.”

The rest of the hospital on Florida Street at Acadian Thruway will remain open.

The closest emergency rooms from Baton Rouge General’s Mid City campus is Lane Regional Medical Center, 30 minutes to the north in Zachary, and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, 30 minutes to the south on Essen Lane. Mid-City’s ER recorded 45,000 patient visits last year.

State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, a Democrat in whose district the Baton Rouge General-Mid City hospital sits, was angered how the Jindal administration promised over the summer to come up with enough money to keep the Mid City ER open and now has withdrawn future support. “I’m highly offended by the administration, by the way they have handled this and all of health care,” she said.

State officials quickly promised to beef up area “urgent care” facilities, where people can get help for non-life threatening illnesses and injuries.

The urgent care clinics will take care of those needs in a far less expensive environment, said Calder Lynch, chief of staff at the state Department of Health and Hospitals, adding that the majority of patients arrive at the General’s emergency room with conditions not acute enough to need immediate attention.

If the patient needs the more sophisticated services of an emergency room, the clinic sends the person to an emergency room.

And that raised concerns Tuesday for Calvin Burrell, who lives in the Glen Oaks area in north Baton Rouge. When his mother needed medical help at 3:30 a.m., she went first to the LSU “urgent care” clinic on Airline Highway. The clinic then sent her to the General’s Mid City ER.

“We’re glad this place here is open. Now they’re going to close it?” Burrell said.

Dr. Howard Mell, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, said it’s tricky to keep a hospital open and provide full services without providing emergency care under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. “In all likelihood, if they’re talking about closing the ER, they’re very likely to close the hospital,” Mell said.

“The hospital is still open,” said Janice Pellar, chairwoman of the Baton Rouge General Board of Trustees. “There are other doors into the hospital. The emergency room is only one door. All others are staying open.”

The General’s board of directors had voted last August to close the Mid City emergency room, citing growing expenses associated with caring for uninsured patients. The board reversed course after the Jindal administration promised an infusion of $18 million.

But the cash was a stop-gap measure.

The General’s Mid City campus suffered a financial hit as a result of the April 2013 closure of the LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center, and the charity hospital’s mental health emergency room extension at its Airline Highway facility in north Baton Rouge. LSU moved the Earl’s emergency room, inpatient operations and medical education programs to Our Lady of the Lake, locally known as the Lake, in south Baton Rouge.

More and more poor and uninsured patients from the low-income neighborhoods of north Baton Rouge ended up at the Mid City hospital, which was the next-closest facility.

Mid City hospital reported losses of $1 million a month as more and more patients who could not pay arrived. Losses jumped from $6 million to $8 million annually from 2009 to 2012, then up to $12.5 million in 2013, according to Baton Rouge General. Last year, the facility lost $23.8 million. Officials projected losses would grow larger, reaching $25 million to $30 million in 2015.

“I understand what Baton Rouge Medical Center is going through. The financing of health care is changing so much it’s hard to provide services without being paid,” said Randy Olson, the chief executive officer at Lane Regional Medical Center. The hospital saw an uptick in emergency room visits after the Earl closed.

“Closure of service anywhere in our city has implications for the entire community,” Scott Wester, the Lake’s chief executive officer, said Tuesday. The decision creates a new challenge, but the Lake expanded its trauma center as part of its absorption of the Earl and is capable of handling the region’s most critical injuries.

Shirley Thompson, who was at the hospital for a doctor’s appointment, said closing the ER matters a lot to people who live in the downtown area, Baker or north Baton Rouge. Residents of those areas already have to travel farther because the state closed the Earl, she said.

“Our governor needs to think about poor people, too,” said Thompson.

Advocate business writer Ted Griggs contributed to this report.