The cancer treatment unit at LSU’s hospital in Independence is off the closure list, at least for now.
But it’s operating at only partial capacity because the oncologist at Lallie Kemp Regional Medical Center is treating cancer patients in Independence, as well as in Baton Rouge at the LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center. The private physician group that handled many oncology patients at the Earl K. Long facility did not renew its contract.
An initial LSU Board-approved budget cutting plan called for closure of the oncology unit at Lallie Kemp, on which 300 patients monthly relied for chemotherapy and other cancer fighting treatments. Congress ordered the reduction of the federal share of funding for the Medicaid program, leaving the state to pay more of the costs. The Jindal administration ordered LSU to cut the budgets of the public hospital system.
The Lallie Kemp unit had quit accepting new patients in August and worked to link about 150 Medicaid patients with health care providers through the state’s private insurance coordinated care networks. LSU had committed to absorb uninsured patients into cancer programs at LSU hospitals in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
The process was nearing the end when Lallie Kemp officials received word that the service would be preserved, said Dr. Kathy Willis, medical director at Lallie Kemp Regional Medical Center.
“I am very thankful to the (LSU) Board and all the people that spoke out for the program to make it happen... It was a vital program to save,” Willis said. “We are taking a few patients, however, our oncologist is assisting with Earl K. Long. Our doctor is working there half-time and here half-time.”
Dr. Kevin Reed, medical director at the Earl K. Long facility, said the Baton Rouge hospital had a long-standing relationship with an oncology physicians group, which treated cancer patients at the Airline Highway facility. The non-renewal came as the hospital was facing budget cuts and employee layoffs. It also came as LSU plans to close the Earl K. Long facility in late 2013, moving its in-patients and medical education programs to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center off Essen Lane.
“The group notified us it was not going to renew the contract because of a lot of concern about transition of the program,” Reed said.
To fill the void, Reed said Lallie Kemp’s state-paid oncology physician is spending two half-days in the Earl K. Long clinics. A staff nephrology physician who treats kidneys is also board certified in oncology, and is taking care of another half-day of services.
“We have had no disruption,” Reed said.
Earl K. Long statistics show more than 900 oncology patients receiving services.
“We are still in discussions with the local oncology group. We are meeting next week. I’m not sure what the resolution will be,” Reed said, adding that discussions also have occurred with officials of the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, whose Baton Rouge facility is also on Essen Lane.
“I know there’ve been discussions with Mary Bird, but no agreement, nothing in writing at this time in regard to future endeavors,” Willis said. “We are hopeful something can be worked out, so we can continue taking care of patients … Hopefully when they (EKL officials) find someone we can have our full program back.”