Legislators concerned about Earl K. Long hospital’s future

The state has no plans for use of the property where LSU’s Earl K. Long Medical Center sits once it closes at year’s end, and that’s upsetting legislators who represent the area.

“We don’t want it to be an eyesore. That’s the last thing we want,” said state Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, in whose Senate district the north Baton Rouge public hospital sits.

“I’ve never felt so hopeless about something in my life,” said state Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, who represents in the House the hospital on Airline Highway and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Under a public-private partnership deal, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, called the Lake and located in south Baton Rouge, will become home to LSU’s inpatients and medical education programs by 2014.

The antiquated Earl K. Long hospital shuts its doors for good when it moves to the Lake campus off Essen Lane near Interstate 10. An exact date has not been set for the transition.

New construction is moving along on the Lake campus in preparation for the move. A medical education building is scheduled to open by August and a heart and vascular tower in November.

Frank Opelka, LSU executive vice president overseeing hospitals, said LSU is leaving it up to local legislators “who have been most thoughtful about possible uses for the EKL site.”

“If the legislators have no proposal, I assume LSU will no longer have a use for the property,” Opelka said. “If no one demonstrates interest, then the property would be surplused to DOA or considered for sale to the highest bid at a minimum of appraised value.”

DOA is the governor’s Division of Administration, which has an office that disposes of surplus property the state declares it no longer can use.

Michael DiResto, DOA spokesman, said a decision on the Earl K. Long property is up to LSU officials.

“We are not aware of what LSU’s plans are for their property,” he said.

Earl K. Long is located on a 13-acre tract on a major corridor through the parish. There are 14 structures on the property, among them the main hospital, a medicine clinic, sub-specialty clinic, the Mental Health Emergency Room Extension, an emergency medical resident education building, a medical library, and administration building.

Broome said she recently discussed EKL’s future with LSU’s Opelka.

“To be honest with you, the state has not had a lot to say about the property,” Broome said. “The way everything is rolling out, we are going to have to accelerate our pace in coming up with a recommendation.”

Barrow said some ideas have been floated, including more affordable housing and a hub for the Capital Area Transit System.

“Nothing has really come of it,” Barrow said. “There’s nothing to my knowledge that even comes close to being concrete.”

Broome said the Greenwell Springs Economic Development District had the topic on its agenda at a recent meeting.

There have been discussions about doing a survey on the future of the property and let the community have input about what’s going to happen to the facility, Broome said. “I know there are a lot of needs around here,” she said

“I would love to encourage a visionary developer to step in,” Broome said.