BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - What started as a day of sadness on the Mid City campus of Baton Rouge General Hospital turned into a raucous celebration by the time a news conference was held Wednesday evening.
Hundreds of cheering doctors, nurses and other staff stood behind hospital administrators and area leaders to announce eleventh-hour Louisiana funding for their emergency room.
"I got a call," Mark Slyter, president and CEO of the hospital, told the crowd. "I call it a Hail Mary pass that we caught from the governor's office and the Department of Health. And they said, 'Mark, listen, we found the funding and we found you sustainable funding to keep this vital service open for our community.'"
Mayor Kip Holden spoke after Slyter, underscoring the need for the hospital's emergency room in Mid City.
"The oldest hospital in Baton Rouge is teetering and you're looking at all the consequences that could happen as a result of this," Holden said. "We can only say, 'Thank God.'"
Many in Mid City were not surprised by the news that the ER was in financial trouble. When LSU's Earl K. Long Hospital shut down in April 2013, BRG Mid City became the only emergency room in north Baton Rouge.
"We've been preparing ourselves for this one day, because we felt like with the Earl K. Long closure that it was going to create a pressure point for the Mid City campus, and just wondered how that was going to impact [operations]," said Samuel Sanders, executive director of the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance (MCRA). "We've stayed in constant communication with the hospital, so we've known that is has gotten worse."
MCRA was founded by Baton Rouge General Hospital Mid City as a way to revitalize the hospital's neighborhood and the organization still receives some funding from the hospital. From 1997 through 2003, MCRA helped develop the Park Hills neighborhood, which is directly across Florida Boulevard.
"It matters that they're here. It's more than just the ER closing. They do other things in the community that are important as well," Sanders added.
Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle represents the district that is home to the Mid City campus. She said the impact of a closure would be devastating for north Baton Rouge.
"There's no hospital, other than Zachary," Marcelle said. "Anything in north Baton Rouge would have to get to Our Lady of the Lake or Bluebonnet and when you're talking about people's lives, that's just unacceptable."
She hopes Wednesday's "scare" is a wake-up call for the community.
"We also need to look at possibly getting another emergency room on the north side of town, which would alleviate a lot of the people coming to Mid City," Marcelle added.
Everyone agreed that a community-wide approach is needed to find a long-term solution to Baton Rouge General's overcrowded Mid City ER.
"It's not just through emergency services. There's urgent care, there's primary care and if we can continue to educate the public and help them find the right level of care, it will help all of us out and it will help access to our patients," Slyter explained.