EKL closure will transfer prisoner care 

The state will rely on Baton Rouge-area hospitals to provide emergency care for prisoners with the closure of LSU’s Earl K. Long Medical Center, according to plans provided by state corrections officials.

Otherwise, the inmates in need of non-emergency in-patient medical care will be transported to LSU’s Lallie Kemp Regional Medical Center in Independence, where a prison ward has been established, or the Interim Hospital in New Orleans, which sees some inmates today for cases the LSU Earl K. Long facility couldn’t handle.

Meanwhile, LSU is working with corrections officials to improve medical care offered at the Baton Rouge area’s four prisons — expanding the telemedicine network where patients videoconference with doctors and expanding clinical exam capacity. Renovations are also underway for new health care clinics and procedure rooms on prison property.

“The clinics on-site are going to be a huge difference,” negating transport of prisoners off-site and the risk of escapes, state Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said. “We can have clinics that are just for inmates.”

The Baton Rouge area is the highest demand area for state prisoner care with four institutions that have traditionally relied on LSU Earl K. Long hospital in north Baton Rouge. The prisons are Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola; Elayn Hunt Correctional Center and the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, both at St. Gabriel; and Dixon Correctional Institute at Jackson.

Prisoner care-related improvements are going on at each prison except Dixon.

Last state fiscal year, $3.44 million was spent on in-patient inmate care at the north Baton Rouge hospital, according to statistics from the LSU System.

Corrections reports 912 off-site emergency medical trips from the prisons last fiscal year and 606 through February of this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Some were to LSU’s New Orleans hospital, corrections communications director Pam Laborde said.

According to LSU statistics, seven inmates a day on average are treated at the Earl K. Long facility. About 80 percent of them come from state prisons, juvenile and forensic facilities. The remaining in-patients are prisoners in parish jails in the eight-parish area.

By law, the LSU hospitals and clinics are required to serve inmates housed in either state or local correctional facilities. The state also appropriates funds for prisoner care.

Casey Rayborn Hicks, East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, said discussions are on-going to determine “a local solution.”

EBR sheriff’s statistics show that 35 to 40 prisoners per month are taken to EKL. The agreement in which Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center becomes home to LSU inpatient and medical education programs in Baton Rouge did not include prisoner care. An attempt to get an area hospital or some private sector company to take over prisoner care got no one expressing interest.

Officials with the state Department of Corrections and LSU went to work developing a solution until a local-regional partnership can be established for in-patient care.

LeBlanc told legislators that finding an area hospital willing to take on the prisoner care has been challenging. He said there could end up being one, two or three hospitals involved.

“There might be some small, rural hospitals we might be able to use. If we spread it out a little bit, it might make it a little easier for these hospitals,” LeBlanc said. “They all have concerns and rightly so.”

Other states don’t have a public hospital system and rely on agreements with local providers, he said.

“It’s a cultural shift to do this, but I understand the concern,” LeBlanc said.

LSU system Executive Vice President Frank Opelka said LSU physicians will provide prisoner care support through its telemedicine network and “enhanced clinics on prison sites.”

LSU is also in discussions with the corrections department about moving some specialists to the prisons instead of moving prisoners to the specialists, Opelka told legislators earlier this week.

He said there is also the possibility of medical specialty-based clinics as needed.

Enhancements are being made at LSU’s Lallie Kemp — the only hospital in the LSU system that’s not being privatized, including the addition of six beds for prisoner care, he said. The hospital will be used as the “focus hospital” for prisoner care for area corrections facilities. The New Orleans hospital is also a receiving facility, he said.

“EKL’s closing may result in additional trips to New Orleans or Lallie Kemp in the short term until we can establish partnerships with local, community hospitals, but true offender emergencies will be brought to the closest community hospital,” Laborde said.

Corrections will keep a close watch on transportation costs for emergency and non-emergency trip costs, she said.

Since corrections “will be conducting many more specialty and telemedicine clinics for offenders on-site, non-emergency outside trips will decrease substantially for those four facilities, reducing transportation costs,” she said.