How Many People Have to Die Before We Address the Healthcare Crisis in North Baton Rouge?

On Tuesday the East Baton Rouge Parish Planning and Zoning Commission voted to approve zoning for the proposed Baton Rouge Health District by a vote of 6-3. I attended the meeting to speak out against the Health District, and now I’m asking you to join me.

On April 15, 2013 Earl K. Long Hospital closed its doors on Airline Hwy. in north Baton Rouge – a void in medical care was created due to the Jindal administration privatizing Louisiana’s healthcare system. Last year on March 31st Baton Rouge General Hospital closed its emergency room at its mid-city location. According to Baton Rouge General, they couldn’t continue to sustain services with so many uninsured patients coming through their doors.

Now north Baton Rouge doesn’t have an emergency room, and it seems like no one is going to say that this is a healthcare crisis – yet plans are moving forward in south Baton Rouge to begin work on a proposed healthcare district. The amazing part about that for me and many others is the Baton Rouge Area Foundation took BP Oil Spill money to fund research about this proposed healthcare district – $750,000 dollars of BP Oil Spill money to do a study. Yet they have not spent a single dime of that money to research how many lives we are losing as an “Area” due to the healthcare crisis in north Baton Rouge.

You see, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation produced this study and used in their reasoning for using the funds that the health district would create “Medical infrastructure and transportation planning for Baton Rouge health corridor, which serves as evacuation for patients across the coast during and after disasters.” That’s a pretty creative way to enable their organization to spend over a half a million dollars to “study” the need for a healthcare district.

The question I have is, if the Baton Rouge Area Foundation is for this area, why do their interest only serve the southern area of Baton Rouge? Is it because the majority of residents of north Baton Rouge are black? Do they not care that if residents in Central, Baker, Zachary, have adequate access to healthcare? Those areas are a part of north Baton Rouge and are not all majority black.

According to the CDC the leading cause of death in African-Americans is heart disease. Followed by cancer and stroke. The harsh reality is that the majority African-American community of North Baton Rouge (those who are more likely to suffer heart attack or stroke) don’t have an ER within life-saving distance.

The first few hours after a heart attack begins is a critical period. In this period, literally every second counts, and the quicker the blood flow restored and the treatment instituted, the better the chances of survival. Furthermore, thanks to decades of progress in out-of-hospital care, with things such as CPR, defibrillators and improved training of paramedic staff, it is very rare to die out of the hospital once in the care of medical staff.

There has been a large effort to reduce the time taken to get the patient to the hospital nationwide and once in the hospital to get the patient to the procedure room to open up the artery.

One of the big measures used to track this is called the “door-to-balloon” time. This is the time taken from the patient entering the emergency room to the time taken to restore the blood flow in the artery. Hospitals are required to have a door-to-balloon time of less than 90 minutes. But let’s say that it takes 2 hours for the patient to get to the hospital from the time the chest pain started, then 90 minutes to restore the blood flow. That’s 3 ½ hours, 30 minutes outside the critical period.

Paramedics are a great asset to the community, but nothing is more vital to saving someone’s life than getting them to a hospital as quickly as possible. If a person has a heart attack in the 70811 zip code, which is the Glen Oaks area of North Baton Rouge at 4pm on a Friday afternoon, paramedics now have to transport that patient to either Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center (OLOL) or Lane Region Medical Center. Both are over 20 minute drives in normal driving conditions. It’s 12.4 miles to OLOL from 70811 and 13 miles to Lane Regional Medical Center.

The comparison is that when Earl K. Long was on Airline Hwy, the drive was 8 minutes and only 2 miles away. Now we are talking about trying to transport sick patients from one side of town to another in critical moments. Yet the mayor and the leaders in the healthcare and business communities are set to spend millions of dollars to address the health district, and have yet to address the need for an emergency room in north Baton Rouge.

Where is the study on access to healthcare in north Baton Rouge? Our mayor Kip Holden gave a letter to President Obama during his trip to Baton Rouge, and sadly it included nothing about access to healthcare in north Baton Rouge. Our governor has started work on Medicaid expansion in Louisiana, but nothing has come from the governor’s office about access to healthcare in north Baton Rouge.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation is a powerful group here in Baton Rouge, they have determined much about the direction of this parish for some time now. The resources at their disposal are tremendous, but they are far from an inclusive organization, when it comes to people of color and the interest of those communities. Now is the time to speak up and demand that the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, or the City of Baton Rouge pay for a study to research the healthcare crisis in north Baton Rouge and come up with a solution for it. The City of Baton Rouge is at the mayor’s request prepared to spend $100,000 to study parking in downtown Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation spent tons of money to research what to do about the LSU Lakes, and even suggest using some of the BP Oil Spill money to solve that “problem with the LSU Lakes”, yet they haven’t invested a dime in the healthcare crisis.

The Metro Council is set to vote on this planning and zoning issue on February 17, 2016 at 4pm, I’m asking you to join us at the council meeting and demand that our elected officials block the healthcare district until at the VERY LEAST, an adequate amount of funds are spent to research the healthcare crisis and a solution. Our Lady of the Lake, Baton Rouge General, Pennington Biomedical Center, Ochner Hospital, and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation will all benefit financially from the healthcare district, while people die in north Baton Rouge due to a lack of adequate access to an emergency room. We don’t need ore clinics in north Baton Rouge, we need a hospital.

What good is a foundation that in its mission says “The foundation connects philanthropist with nonprofits to make sure the needs of our communities are met” – if they only meet the needs of certain aspects of our community. What good is a hospital in south Baton Rouge to a resident of north Baton Rouge who is dying? It’s funny, the study say’s it’s “a unified medical community, brought together within the bounds of a shared Health District, will enable Baton Rouge health providers to combine their strengths and compete with medical centers nationwide.” Some will say one doesn’t have to do with the other, but this is to benefit healthcare and all our resources should be focused on solving the biggest healthcare crisis we have. The Health District is about money, not about helping people, and our council should have the courage to not approve something that puts profit before people. We have a healthcare crisis and we need to solve it now, how many people have to die before we fix it?….

January 23, 2016

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