“What people don’t understand is that this hospital (LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center) is for people like me. This is our safety net.” Deborah Hughes
A statewide tour criticizing recent state health care cuts stopped in Baton Rouge on Saturday to raise awareness about the human toll of budget decisions.
“This process has gone on with little public reaction because the debate has been sterilized by focusing on the numbers and not people … The decisions are being made on spread sheets,” said Melissa Flournoy, of Louisiana Progress, a Baton Rouge-based political action group.
“Until you bring attention to it, people don’t know what it means,” said state Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, in whose district the LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center sits.
A coalition of community groups and professional associations visited public medical care facilities that have been impacted by budget cuts. The “Louisiana Medicaid Misery Bus Tour” started at the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital, visited Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville, Lallie Kemp Hospital in Independence, the Earl K. Long facility in north Baton Rouge and Central State Hospital in Pineville.
About 25 people stood under the shade of a tree on Airline Highway as elected officials, lobbyists and others mounted the Earl K. Long hospital’s sign to give their testimony.
Dr. Janet Bradley said the closing of Southeast Louisiana would mean patients are going to be sent to institutions across the state, far from families and support systems.
Jindal administration aides say changes are needed to make the health care system more economically efficient and to deliver better outcomes for patients.
Recent decisions causing angst include axing about $320 million in funding from LSU’s 10 public hospitals. Changes to federal rules pushed by the U.S. Congress caused a change in the amount of money the federal government pays for its portion of Medicaid, the state and federal insurance program for the poor. The decrease in the federal rate requires state government to pay more.
To compensate, the LSU Board of Supervisors, the majority of whom the governor named, ordered 34.5 percent cuts that don’t close hospitals or emergency rooms. LSU leaders also are looking at the possibility of public-private arrangements to run public facilities.
Other proposals being considered include moving the training of some “residents” to various hospitals across the state. Residents are doctors who recently graduated from medical school, received their medical degrees, and to become fully licensed, need to train from three to seven years under the supervision of seasoned physicians.
One agreement between LSU and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center would close the north Baton Rouge facility in 2014 and move inpatient care and medical education to the private hospital on Essen Lane.
A handful of Earl K. Long physicians took a few minutes off to survey Saturday’s gathering.
Dr. Stephanie El Hajj, of Lebanon, is an internal medicine resident. She said she was assured that her residency would shift to the Lake when the LSU facility closes.
“I’m confused. But I’m not really worried,” El Hajj said of all the talk about budget cuts, possible closures, consolidations and other plans that would personally affect medical students and residents.
“They say we’re going to be taken care of,” Dr. Ross Doize, a resident from Lafayette, said about discussions supervising physicians and LSU leadership had with the residents.
Neema Patel, of New Orleans and in her fourth year of studies at the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans, said “It’s hard to understand what things are changing and when. I’ll do what we usually do and see what happens.”
Former patient Deborah Hughes, of Baton Rouge, said too many judge the Earl K. Long by its neighborhood and its appearance. But as a teaching facility, the equipment is high tech and the personnel very expert, she said.
Many people in the Baton Rouge area don’t qualify for Medicaid, but don’t have adequate insurance, she noted.
“What people don’t understand is that this hospital is for people like me. This is our safety net.” Hughes said, dabbing tears from her eyes. “They saved my life.”