Over the past four years, access to hospitals and emergency rooms has dwindled in north Baton Rouge, forcing residents there to travel farther for health care. As of Wednesday, they have a new — and closer — option.
Doors opened Wednesday on a north Baton Rouge emergency room that will increase access to critical care in north Baton Rouge. The facility will be run by Our Lady of the Lake — one of the largest private medical centers in Louisiana — where Terrie Sterling is Chief Operating Officer.
“Adding these services does add a critical access point to that part of the parish,” she says.
The new ER is located just down the street from the former Earl K. Long Medical Center. The state closed that charity hospital in 2013, which meant uninsured patients had to travel to Our Lady of the Lake — about 13 miles away.
But many patients didn’t travel that far. Instead, they went to the closer emergency room at Baton Rouge General Mid-City. In 2015, the General closed that emergency room, saying they could no longer afford to treat uninsured patients without more financial help from the state.
Father Richard Andrus is pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, just one mile down the road from Baton Rouge General Mid-City.
“I think having the emergency room at Baton Rouge General was a life-saving element for the people in this community. Not having it has put people at risk," he says.
People in his neighborhood were concerned about no longer having an ER just down the road.
“We live here! What happens if I have a heart attack? I’m concerned about that. What happens if someone has a stroke? What happens if there’s a car accident, a shooting?” Andrus asks.
Brad Harris, spokesman for East Baton Rouge Parish EMS, says people — and ambulances — in north Baton Rouge have had to travel farther for emergency care.
“We’re having to transport patients south of I-10 or up to Zachary, to Lane Memorial, or out to O’Neal Lane, Ochsner,” Harris explains.
With no ER in the middle of the parish, ambulance rides take about two minutes longer. The average trip takes just over 16 minutes. But Harris says having this new ER in Baton Rouge "should cut down on a lot of the transport times.”
And it could ease the burden on the parish’s other emergency rooms.
“It’s not only going to help the patients that go to that facility," says Harris, "but the other hospitals will be less crowded as well.”
Our Lady of the Lake COO Terrie Sterling says they expect to see anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 patients a year. But because this new ER is not a full hospital, there is a limit to the type of treatment it can provide.
“The facility is intended to handle emergency room related illnesses. If someone is having difficulty breathing, or there is severe pain in their abdomen, those types of illnesses," explains Sterling.
She says patients with more serious, life-threatening trauma — like heart attacks — would still be better off going to an emergency room at a hospital.
“Those things that are penetrating wounds or those types of injuries where the trauma standards indicate that you really need to receive life-saving care within one hour or potentially you could succumb to your injury,” she says.
For the less serious cases — like a cold or the flu — there’s an urgent care clinic next door. Sterling says this setup will help ensure patients get the right care in the right setting.
“The patient is assessed," she says, "and the provider will determine that their care is not emergent, and then we will just walk them over. All of the assessment and all the information that the prior clinical team has gathered will be available to that team, but they’ll be able to complete that visit in the urgent care center.”
The new ER began accepting patients Wednesday at 1 p.m.