BR top health needs: obesity, HIV/AIDS, mental health, emergency room overuse

Baton Rouge has identified obesity, HIV/AIDS, mental health and the overuse of emergency rooms as its top health priorities, and health care leaders say efforts are growing to address those issues.

“These four things drive our action,” said Andy Allen, community outreach coordinator for Baton Rouge’s Healthy City Initiative. “They drive what we do every day.”

Allen and other health policy advisers from Mayor-President Kip Holden’s administration gave an update on Healthy BR and its efforts to address persistent health issues during a meeting Wednesday of Leadership Baton Rouge alumni.

Holden couldn’t attend the event because of a death in his family.

The Healthy City Initiative is intended to build upon a 2012 community health needs assessment that identified areas that have to be addressed if Baton Rouge wants to improve its health rankings.

“It was really an all-inclusive effort to identify what are the health priority issues in this area and how can we address them,” Allen said. “It drives a lot of what we do day-to-day.”

Baton Rouge has a high rate of residents who rely on emergency rooms, rather than primary care doctors, for non-emergency medical situations.

Angela Gourney, a nurse who serves on the Healthy BR advisory panel, said that when health care leaders started examining the most common non-emergency ER visits, they learned that dental issues were among the top five.

“There are a lot of people in our community who don’t have dental insurance,” she said.

Officials began examining options and made contact with a volunteer organization that will come to Baton Rouge next year to offer free dental care for the uninsured, Gourney said.

Healthy BR also has implemented several efforts to expand access to healthy food to combat obesity, including a “healthy corner store” initiative that will start this month with four stores, said Lyndsi Lambert, who oversees the Healthy City Initiative’s Fresh Beginnings program.

Baton Rouge is consistently named among cities that have the highest per capita HIV and AIDS rates.

“This is an epidemic. It’s an issue for our city,” said Sylvia Andrews, assistant director of East Baton Rouge’s Division of Human Development and Services.

Recent efforts have included expanding testing and access to treatment, she said.

On the mental health front, Dr. Jeanne George, who serves on the Healthy BR advisory panel, said officials are trying to address the mental health among the parish prison population.

“There has been some significant progress,” she said.