BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The state's safety net hospitals remain in limbo as Louisiana lawmakers try to solve the budget crisis. Four face closure if legislators cannot find enough money to completely plug the $600 million hole. They include hospitals in Houma, Bogalusa, Alexandria, and Lake Charles.
Katie Hughes is entirely too familiar with the inside of a hospital.
"They've saved my life more than once, they've given me my baby safely," she said.
Hughes barely survived a car accident and also just endured a high-risk pregnancy. The hospital she's come to know so well - Our Lady of the Angels in Bogalusa - is one of the four facing cuts or complete closure. It's run through a public-private partnership with the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System.
"Bogalusa will not survive without that hospital," Hughes added.
For many of Bogalusa's 12,000 residents, a visit to OLOAH is the only time they see a doctor. Practicing medicine in a rural area provides a unique set of challenges. One in ten people have no transportation, and over half live near the poverty line.
"They frequently present at a later stage of disease," said Dr. Emilio Russo. "They frequently don't take advantage of the preventative or educational components of health care that are a growing part of medicine."
Russo runs LSU Health Sciences Center's rural family medicine residency program. It's the only such program in Louisiana and one of only 16 in the country. Russo and his staff train new doctors to work specifically with rural populations.
"These are the patients that need healthcare the most and have the least amount of access to it," explained Dr. Kelsey Phelps, an assistant professor in the program.
Six new doctors graduate every year committed to caring for underserved communities, and many end up staying in Louisiana.
"We don't just serve people from Bogalusa," Russo said. "We catch people from Washington Parish, from Tangipahoa, St. Tammany and even the nearby parts of Mississippi."
For many that would mean an hour drive for healthcare if OLOAH did not exist. It's a frightening prospect for the 500 employees and thousands of patients who come through those doors every year.
A hospital spokesperson released the following statement about the proposed cuts.
"Our Lady of the Angels Hospital is confident that Louisiana state leaders know how vital its healthcare services are to the people of Washington Parish and the surrounding communities, and its patients and team members remain hopeful that they will find a way to continue to fund our public-private partnership."
While state leaders explore alternate funding models to care for Louisiana's poorest citizens, it remains to be seen what impact Medicaid expansion will have on safety net hospitals. The additional patients will provide some additional revenue.
By law the Special Session must end at midnight on June 23rd.