OLOL CEO: State budget shortfall could have 'dire' consequences for Baton Rouge healthcare

The newly opened emergency room in north Baton Rouge could close due to budget cuts (Source: WAFB)
The newly opened emergency room in north Baton Rouge could close due to budget cuts (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The head of Our Lady of the Lake warned legislators the state's budget crisis could have "dire" consequences for healthcare in the Baton Rouge area.

In a letter to the Edwards administration, the Lake's CEO, Scott Wester, explained that proposed funding cuts could force them to close urgent care clinics and the trauma center. Medical students from LSU would no longer be able to train at OLOL, putting residency programs in jeopardy. The cuts could also force them to close the emergency room on Airline Highway in North Baton Rouge. Opened just in November of 2017 to service a part of the parish in need of healthcare options, it already has provided services to roughly 7,000 patients.

"Without adequate, sustainable funding, the consequences to healthcare are dire and we will lose the tremendous progress that's been made here in Baton Rouge," Wester wrote.

The cuts are part of the governor's "doomsday" budget, which accounts for roughly $994 million in cuts starting on July 1, when temporary taxes fall off the books.

During a committee hearing Tuesday, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told lawmakers because they did not act to fix the budget during the recently ended special session, hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts are on the horizon. Partner hospitals, including Our Lady of the Lake, take a major funding hit.

"It's not a threat and it's not a scare tactic. It's the reality of what's going to happen," Dardenne said. "These are facts, you can't change these facts."

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Dardenne told lawmakers it's now in their hands to find an alternate cut plan.

Some Republicans believe the shortfall numbers are fuzzy at best. For example, tax changes at the federal level are expected to add roughly $300 million to state coffers, bringing the shortfall down to roughly $700 million. They believe they can pass a budget by finding cuts.

"We have to make these decisions with what we've got," said Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria.

Dardenne disagrees, saying he doubts they will be able to stomach the cuts they will be forced to make. "It's like buzzards flying around Louisiana, ready to swoop in on the carcasses we leave behind," he said.

In a letter to the House Speaker and Senate President Tuesday, Governor John Bel Edwards once again called for a second special session. He asked them to end the regular session early, sometime in mid-May, so lawmakers can immediately come in for a special session to pass taxes and fill in the budget gap.

Under the constitution, lawmakers cannot raise new taxes during the regular session of even-numbered years.

Read the full letter Wester sent to the Edwards administration below.

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