Area hospitals anticipate cutbacks will cause them problems
“The emergency room is just the beginning. It’s going to be people historically coming here, having to wait longer. You start thinking about surgery and other services in the hospital, too.” RANDY OLSON, Lane Regional Medical Center administrator
Officials of two area hospitals in close proximity to LSU’s Earl K. Long Medical Center said Friday they are concerned that the Jindal administration’s plan to quickly downsize the hospital that serves the poor and uninsured would translate into problems for them.
Meanwhile, area legislators worried that the plan would reduce access to health care for many people who would begin clogging the emergency rooms of other hospitals and physician-in-training programs would suffer.
The LSU Board of Supervisors endorsed a plan Thursday under which 341 Earl K. Long Medical Center employees would lose their jobs as the hospital eliminates all intensive care beds; reduces its emergency room beds from 17 to six and its operating room beds from four to two; and leaves 10 beds for general population patients and five for prisoner care.
The operating funds for Earl K. Long Medical Center are cut by $38.7 million as part of a plan to reduce spending at LSU’s seven south Louisiana hospitals by $151.7 million between now and June 30. The administration ordered cuts after a sudden reduction in federal Medicaid funding.
Last fiscal year, EKL had 4,884 inpatient admissions and 46,720 emergency room patients.
LSU administrators said the current public hospital system is not sustainable and more patient care and medical education needs to move to the private sector to improve both finances and quality of care. The cuts move the state in that direction, they said.
State Rep. Regina Barrow, whose district includes EKL, criticized the lack of specifics and planning to launch such a major change.
“I don’t know how we even prepare for this impact,” said Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. “How does this translate to individuals receiving those basic services? What does it mean to the trauma needs of this community? ... I’m really concerned people are going to lose their lives because of these poor decisions.”
“There’s going to be a disconnect with services,” state Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, said. “It’s a trying situation to say the least. I have to believe there is some ray of hope — that legislators can be a catalyst.”
EKL is in north Baton Rouge on Airline Highway. Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary and the Baton Rouge General’s Mid-City campus are the closest facilities.
Lane administrator Randy Olson said the Zachary hospital has seen a 10 to 12 percent increase in its emergency department over last year.
“A lot of that is because of what has been happening to Earl K. and that’s even before the latest with the hospital going from 17 emergency beds to six,” said Olson. “The emergency room is just the beginning. It’s going to be people historically coming here, having to wait longer. You start thinking about surgery and other services in the hospital, too.
“Our bad debts have gone up significantly,” Olson said. “We either don’t get paid for care or even for the cost of delivering that care.”
He said the state also continues to reduce Medicaid reimbursement for hospital services.
Nicole Kleinpeter, director of corporate communications for General Health Systems, which operates the Mid-City hospital, said there will be an impact from EKL emergency room and other bed closures.
“There will be a large number of patients in our community who will need access to care,” Kleinpeter said. “They will need critical services.”
“We are all waiting for a plan for effective coordination of those patients” during the time between the service cuts and when LSU operations move from EKL to the Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center campus, known locally as the Lake, more than a year from now, Kleinpeter said.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said the area should fare better than others because LSU already has a deal with the Lake, in which the Essen Lane facility becomes the home to EKL’s inpatient services and medical education programs. EKL is scheduled to close by late 2013.
“As far as services being available to the public in the Baton Rouge area, I think we will still manage but not at the same level we all wish it could be” because of the cuts, Claitor said. “At the end of the day, in Baton Rouge, we will fare better than the rural areas because of the public-private partnership. But it will be rough traveling over the bridge.”
Claitor said he expects people to turn to other area hospitals to get care through expensive emergency rooms.
The Lake continues to work closely with LSU on the transition as construction work goes on at the Lakes’s campus off Essen Lane at Interstate 10 to make sure that the infrastructure is there to take on the new role, said Scott Wester, Lake chief executive officer.
Wester said the recent decisions impacting EKL operations are prompting discussion about “how do we begin transitioning a little more quickly some of the medical education training programs,” such as emergency medicine, which is housed at EKL.
He said some internal medicine physicians in training have already been moved to the Lake, but emergency medicine is in its infancy there.
Barrow said she has been told that the cuts could jeopardize graduate medical education programs housed at EKL where physicians-in-training get hands on experience. One of those programs is emergency medicine where needed patient volume will decrease dramatically with the loss of 11 beds and no capacity for intensive care.
Barrow said some physicians in training have told her they are considering transferring to another residency program because of the upheaval.