Two police officers were shot Saturday morning after responding to a complaint about damage to property in the 5600 block of Fairfields Ave. The two officers were driven to the hospital before EMS could arrive.
Had Earl K. Long Medical Center not been closed in 2013, the drive to the ER would have only been about seven minutes. Had the Baton Rouge General Mid-City emergency room not been closed last year, the drive would have been even shorter.
Local activist and publisher of The Rouge Collection Gary Chambers used this example as a wakeup call to the healthcare crisis in North Baton Rouge.
Police officers have a dangerous job and access to emergency medical care is critical when officers are wounded in the line of duty. Had those officers received more life-threatening injuries, they could have lost their lives.
“You see, this is the everyday struggle of residents of north Baton Rouge,” Chambers wrote in an article published to The Rouge Collection’s site. “This tragic situation with the police officers allows it to be seen in real time.”
The only emergency rooms in the area are now Our Lady of the Lake Hospital and Oschner Medical Center in Baton Rouge and Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary. Depending on your location in North Baton Rouge, the drive to an emergency room could take 20 minutes or more.
In the bigger scope of things, residents of North Baton Rouge are not only frustrated with the lack of adequate healthcare access but with the proposal of a health district to improve health care in South Baton Rouge.
In 2011, the parish’s comprehensive plan for growth, FuturEBR, called for a health district plan. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation took the initiative to develop and fund a $700,000 plan for the Baton Rouge Health District. They collaborated with health care leaders and consultants to develop a master plan that would include improvements to transportation and pedestrian access and the development of a four-year medical school.
The district would connect institutions such as the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and College, Ochsner Medical Center, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, along with others.
City-parish Planning Director Frank Duke said the biggest feature of the plan is the commitment from private sector healthcare providers to create an organization that works together to more efficiently provide healthcare opportunities to residents of the parish.
Last month the Planning Commission approved the plan with a 7-3 vote, with one of the opposing votes coming from Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker.
Wicker, who represents District 10, said her “no” wasn’t in opposition to the district, but an attempt to gain more time to discuss how to address healthcare access issues in North Baton Rouge with other political leaders.
After discussing the issue of lack of healthcare services in North Baton Rouge and the health district proposal with other councilmembers, they agreed that the topics are two separate issues.
“The conversation has been not eliminating the opportunity to do something, while we’re working on what’s going to happen in north Baton Rouge,” Wicker said. There are a lot of different views on that, but I think as a whole, as a community, we’ve got to be able to holistically look at it.”
Baton Rouge Organizing started a petition on Change.org entitled “Stop the Assault on Healthcare in North Baton Rouge.” The petition has 740 signatures and three demands.
Petitioners want a hospital, with an emergency room, in North Baton Rouge, policy to prioritize medical development in North Baton Rouge for the next 15 years and a study funded to examine the impact of the disproportionate allocation of medical resources to different parts of the city and how that correlates to health, economics, and scholastic effects of residents in those areas.
“The petition is there,” Wicker said. “I’m excited about it because I think it gives light to the fact that people are really concerned about an issue that should have been talked about before Earl K. Long closed. That should have been a major discussion before that decision was made.”
A few people who signed the petition left comments regarding the issue.
Joseph Chaney, who grew up in North Baton Rouge, said he has always been frustrated with the lack of economic development in the area. He is not opposed to the hospital district, but thinks council members should prioritize the city’s needs.
“Not having adequate E.R. facilities in an area that serves a university, a host of chemical companies, a regional airport, and a large working class community is disturbing,” Chaney wrote. “This type of city planning is inadequate and inequitable.”
Gary Chambers said the problem is the lack funding to study the deficit of healthcare in north Baton Rouge.
Although not against the health district, Chambers is against the implementation of the district before addressing the issues in north Baton Rouge. It’s not a bad idea, just a bad time he said. There are no hospitals in North Baton Rouge.
“It doesn’t matter if you have the best hospital in the world on the other side of town if it takes too long to get you there,” Chambers said.
The Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP agreed with Chambers and the demands of Baton Rouge Organizing’s petition. In a letter sent to councilmembers this morning, General counsel Alfreda Tillman Bester urged the council to work in the best interest of the whole community.
The organization opposes use of public resources to fund the project until there is a fully functioning hospital and emergency room in North Baton Rouge.
The Metro Council will vote on the zoning of the health district in a meeting this afternoon.
“Hold your elected officials’ feet to the fire,” Chambers said.