Baton Rouge resident Larry Patin is worried. He’s afraid more people like his sister, Janice Robinson, will die because of what he sees as a lack of access to health care for the uninsured in the Baton Rouge area.
Patin and others such as those who attended a candlelight vigil at LSU’s Earl K. Long Medical Center on Saturday evening fear what’s on the horizon with the closure of the hospital and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s rejection of federally funded Medicaid expansion to cover more working poor and uninsured.
EKL, at 5825 Airline Highway in north Baton Rouge, is scheduled to close April 15 as inpatient care and LSU’s medical education programs move to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in south Baton Rouge. Woman’s Hospital has taken over obstetrics and gynecological care that EKL had been offering.
Robinson, 60, was a machine clerk at a local cleaners where she had worked for 28 years.
“She could not afford the private insurance because she was not making a lot of money,” Patin said, and her employer didn’t offer any.
Patin said that when his sister fell ill several months ago and surgery was ordered, she relied on LSU and its new private sector partnership with Woman’s Hospital for obstetrics and gynecological care. Patin said surgeries were scheduled and canceled.
Patin said his sister got to the point where she required emergency surgery, which was done at EKL. She got out of the hospital but died a short time later.
“My sister lost her life because that surgery should have been done right away. Why did she have to wait?” Patin asked. “Health care should have been there for her all along.”
LSU and Woman’s officials declined comment, citing patient privacy.
“We are required by state and federal law to protect our patients’ confidential medical information,” LSU communications officer Marvin McGraw said.
McGraw noted EKL’s top priority has been “to provide excellent health care and maintain the safety of our patients.”
Woman’s spokeswoman Aimee Goforth cited the same privacy laws.
“Patients who present at Woman’s in an emergency will receive care regardless of their ability to pay,” Goforth said.
Patin said other women have not received treatment because of a similar gap in the system. He said his sister was a victim of the same treatment gap.
“I have great concerns they are denying the people health care. We have a problem there,” Patin said.
About 75 people attended the rally to hear speakers talk about the problems of access to care while they also criticized Jindal for shunning Medicaid expansion. Event organizers were Louisiana Progress, Forward Louisiana, Equality Louisiana, Occupy Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Movement.
Sandra Adams, the former head of the Maternal and Child Health Coalition, said the Medicaid expansion to cover people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level would give women the access to health care they don’t have today. Uninsured women have to be pregnant to get care, she said.
State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, who emceed Saturday’s event, stressed the importance of Medicaid expansion as she highlighted what she called “the gap that currently exists” with the LSU-Lake agreement.
She said people should not have to wait and show up in a hospital emergency room when their situation becomes critical.
State Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, said as EKL closes and its services move to the Lake, “our governor is refusing to expand Medicaid, which adds insult to injury.” She said EKL provides health care “to all individuals.”
Joyce Keller, chief executive officer of Aspirations, said she fears that those in the community with HIV and AIDS will not have adequate access to care.
“We are going to lose more young people and fewer people will get tested and get services,” she said.
Dr. Fred Cerise, former head of LSU’s hospital system, said the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is not perfect, but it provides insurance for hundreds of thousands of Louisianians who don’t have health care coverage — most of them who work full or part-time.
While Jindal claims the expansion would be too costly for the state, Cerise said Louisiana will get $16 billion during 10 years for health care.
“I will bet you at the end of the day it will be a net positive for the state,” he said.
Rick Geren, a registered nurse in EKL’s intensive care unit, said he has worked 30-plus years at the hospital.
“I believe in my heart what goes on in this hospital is second to none. From doctors to housekeepers there are some caring people,” Geren said.
“Let’s not forget the least in the kingdom of God,” Geren said. “At the end of the day, we are going to be looked at how we treat them.”