Healthcare clinic opens in Ascension - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Healthcare clinic opens in Ascension

By Cheryl Mercedes - bio | email

GONZALES, LA (WAFB) - Nearly a fourth of Ascension Parish residents do not have health insurance, according to a recent study. That caused emergency rooms to fill up with cases as small as the sniffles. But, parish leaders and a local hospital have found a remedy to offer primary care services to all residents. 

The St. Elizabeth Hospital's emergency room waiting area may appear to be slow and quiet at times. But, hospital vice president Pete Guarisco warns things can change at a moment's notice. There's no such thing as a "typical" day in the ER and the cases that find themselves here range from simple to severe. "If someone's in the emergency room with a sinus infection and there's someone in the back who was in an auto accident or had a heart attack, those patients take priority," Guarisco said.

So, if you want to see a doctor for a runny nose, you could be in for a long wait. But, some have no other choice. "Twenty-five percent of all patients that come in the facility are uninsured," Guarisco said.

According to a study released by the Louisiana Health Insurance Society in 2007, 22 percent of the people who live in Ascension Parish are not insured. That number struck a chord with the hospital and the parish. "We knew we couldn't sit back and do nothing," Guarisco said.

For two years St. Elizabeth Hospital staff have been working with parish officials to provide primary healthcare to all residents. The current parish health unit is being transformed into "St. Elizabeth Community Clinic." It will consist of a medical director, a nurse, two nurse practitioners and two patient account reps.

Parish Health Director Kenny Matassa says visits will cost between 5 and 25 dollars, depending on income. "Hopefully, the government realizes that this is the way to go for primary care," Matassa said. He believes this is just the first step in public and private entities working together to improve healthcare across the board.

Start-up costs for the clinic were funded by a $500,000 grant through the Fransiscan Sisters Ministries.

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