Ochnsner hopes to open med facility in early 2013

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

Ochsner Health Center hopes to start seeing patients at a freestanding emergency room and walk-in clinic in the first quarter of 2013, the center's chief executive officer for the Baton Rouge region announced last week.

Mitch Wasden personally manned a booth at the Iberville/West Baton Rouge chamber of commerce's 2011 Business Expo last week at the Carl F. Grant Civic Center, along with Robert E. Galloway, the consultant representing the Iberville Parish government in negotiations for Ochsner to locate here.

The parish will use $22 million in federal hurricane recovery funds and a $3 million state appropriation to build the facility, which Ochsner will lease and operate.

“From a community standpoint, having medical facilities in the parish helps attract employers,” Wasden said. “It's good for families because they don't have to travel so far.”

Wasden said Ochsner expects to see some 10,000 patients at the emergency room in the first year, about the number the defunct River West Medical Center was handling when it was forced to close in May 2009. The parish has been without a hospital since then, and around 100 hospital employees lost their jobs.

The new facility will create some 50 to 60 jobs in the area initially, and Ochsner plans to hire locally here they can, Wasden said.

Galloway, president of Galloway Consulting Group, said local nurses and other medical professionals are looking forward to the chance to avoid commuting outside the parish for work.

In addition to the emergency room, Ochsner will offer radiology and laboratory services and a primary care clinic, and provide office space for doctors and rotate doctors with specialists there, the CEO said.

In Phase II, Wasden said, Ochsner will look at how to expand services “if this is successful and supported by the community,” That could include adding inpatient beds.

Ochsner will accept all major insurance health plans, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Humana and United, as well as Medicaid and Medicare, Wasden said.

“River West had the problem that people couldn't use their insurance there,” Galloway said.

The parish has promised to return some of the lease payments to Ochsner to pay for care for uninsured parish residents.

For the moment, the parish has an agreement to purchase land on La. 1 South, pending an environmental report.

Galloway said the parish and Ochsner would continue to negotiate a lease agreement during engineering and design of a unique, modern facility.

“We have to push, push, push,” Wasden said.

He said he thought the lease agreement would be settled within 30 to 60 days.

With the economy in a slump, Galloway said the parish should attract good prices for construction.