Baton Rouge Expands Urgent Care Hours to Make Up For Closing Emergency Room

Mid City ERIn February, residents of Baton Rouge were angered when they learned that a prominent local hospital plans to close its emergency room, raising questions about where the injured would seek care for their medical problems. Now, area health officials have announced that they will expand area urgent care clinics to help fill any gaps this change may create. However, public response to this decision thus far has been mixed.

On Friday, State Health Secretary Kathy Kliebert stated that hospitals in Baton Rouge should have enough emergency room capacity to absorb patient volumes that otherwise would have been treated at the Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s Mid City Campus. But after the hospital closes its emergency room on March 31, health officials say that urgent care clinics will expand their hours to handle patients with less critical conditions. For example, the hours of LSU Health’s Mid Cit urgent care clinic will begin operating 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the week, beginning March 23. The clinic currently operates from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. Likewise, LSU Health’s North Campus Urgent Care Clinic, a 24 hour walk in clinic, plans to increase the number of hours in which they offer advanced diagnostic services, such as CT scans and MRIs. Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center will also be expanding clinic access to accumulate a greater number of patients.Health officials believe that these centers will be able to adequately meet the needs of the area given the way medical resources are currently being used: presently, around 80% of the General Medical Center’s ER visits are comprised of non-life-threatening problems. As a result, the city believes it can save a great deal of money on personnel and equipment by redirecting patients to urgent care clinics, which can treat everything from the flu to fractures and broken bones.The switch to urgent care is also expected to be more affordable for patients: the General Medical Center reportedly saw a dramatic increase in patient numbers, especially of those who couldn’t pay, after LSU closed Earl K. Long Medical Center, a charity hospital in north Baton Rouge. The increase of uninsured patients reportedly pushed the General Medical Center’s losses as high as $2 million a month. Because urgent care centers are known for charging more affordable co-pays than hospitals, it is likely that patients will be able to pay for services even without insurance, putting less strain on Louisiana families and the state.

The urgent care expansion was announced after a meeting on Wednesday, where numerous clinic representatives and officials from the Jindal Administration discussed strategies for the ER closure. According to the group’s calculations, the city of Baton Rouge’s hospitals currently have the capacity to handle more than 278,000 visits per year. Last year, the city handled around 264,000 visits, with the General Medical Center seeing 120 of those visits a day. However, if patients can be redirected to urgent care clinics in the area, the committee is confident that patient needs will be met.

Not everyone is convinced. State Senator Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, for example, in whose district the General Mid City campus sits, has said that while the increased urgent care hours will help, a void still exists. But the General Medical Center isn’t the only hospital in the are: Our Lady of the Lake, which has taken the lead in filling the gap, recently expanded its emergency room capacity from 38 to 60 beds and is in the process of adding 12 beds for mental health patients. And unlike the General Medical Center, part of Our Lady of the Lake’s agreement with LSU and the state states that the hospital will receive full Medicaid reimbursement for the cost of caring for uninsured patients.

But even as other medical facilities step in to fill the holes it has left, the General Medical Center is far from done: reports state that the hospital is evaluating an eight to 10 bed increase at its Bluebonnet campus’s ER. Meanwhile, hospital officials are apparently working on revising admissions processes, which would allow staff physicians and nursing homes to directly admit patients to General Medical Clinic facilities without going through the emergency room.

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