After hospital officials announced on Feb. 23 that the Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City Campus would be closing its emergency room by March 31, the residents of Baton Rouge, LA seemed to have one collective thought: Thank goodness for urgent care centers.
After the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals made the official statement regarding the hospital’s emergency room closing date, a number of regional immediate care medical centers quickly reassured Baton Rouge residents that emergency medical treatment would still be readily available, from the moment the hospital’s ER closes its doors.
Local news station WAFB has reported that two LSU Urgent Care Clinic locations are already planning on extending their hours to accommodate emergency services, as is the Lady of the Lake emergency room.
Although these medical centers were the first to announce their plans to extend emergency operation hours, numerous urgent care clinics and outpatient emergency rooms have begun stating that they intend to follow suit.
Still, as The Times-Picayune notes, residents who depend on the Mid City ER are fearful that their access to immediate medical care will be problematic; the Mid City ER currently serves “essentially all of the northern half of Baton Rouge.” For anyone truly in need of emergency medical care, traveling a farther distance for “immediate” care could put countless patients at risk.
It’s clear, however, that the city simply can’t support the Mid City ER financially, and that the hospital wouldn’t be able to provide patients with adequate care if its emergency room was left open.
Since the Earl K. Long Medical Center closed in 2013, the number of uninsured patients treated at the Mid City ER has risen dramatically. The Times-Picayune states that the Mid-City emergency room lost about $12.5 million on uninsured patients in 2013, $23.4 million in 2014, and a projected $25 million to $30 million during 2015.
According to The Advocate, Mid City Campus Chief Executive Officer Mark Slyter stated that the hospital is currently losing about $2 million per month due to the increase in uninsured patients.
The silver lining in the situation, as The Advocate states, is that nearby urgent care centers will likely be able to fill the void of emergency services when the hospital’s ER closes, since around 80% of all Mid City ER visits were for non-life-threatening medical conditions. In other words, traveling a few extra miles may be an inconvenience, but it’s unlikely to have fatal consequences for the majority of Baton Rouge residents.
“The uninsured populations use hospital emergency rooms for almost all their medical care knowing that they will not have any financial obligation at the time of service and ultimately never paying for services rendered at all,” says Terri Porter, Clinic Administrator, Doctors Express Phoenix. “This type of thinking is causing a financial strain on hospital emergency rooms across the nation. The closing of a hospital ER is bad for the community in that those with true life threatening emergencies will have to travel farther to receive care. Urgent Care facilities may take on some of the burden for those that have insurance, however the uninsured will still seek medical care in hospital emergency rooms regardless of how far they may have to travel.”
Urgent care options are a great way for residents to feel like there is an affordable way to visit a doctor in case of minor injury or illness. Uninsured populations are able to visit an urgent care and have their immediate needs met without having to worry about a massive hospital bill. By utilizing an urgent care instead of an emergency room, the patient will likely have a much smaller and, more importantly, reserve the hospitals for those for need severe medical intervention. With an average cost between $100 and $200, urgent care is an affordable medical option for most people. Especially those that are uninsured.
With more urgent care centers opening in the area, the looming closure of the emergency room becomes less of a crisis. Urgent care centers are able to take on the majority of issues that drive people to the ER.
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