Sunday, February 05, 2006

On Life Support, But Feeling Much Better Now

This is a Chicken Little moment for the Times-Picayune. Today's edition reports that, I kid you not, New Orleans hospitals are on "life support". Granted, waits at emergency rooms are extremely long and beds are in short supply. This may be difficult for the patients and the medical staff are stretched thin, but most businesses would see this as good news.

The only downside is that the hospitals are admitting a higher rate of uninsured, (yes, unisured DO have access to healthcare) and putting a financial strain on the institutions due to the charity system being shut-down.

The number of patients using emergency rooms for nonemergencies has a large role in the health care crisis, Peters said.

But further into the article we find that area hospitals are making adjustments to ease the load on the EDs.

In St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, federally financed clinics are available to residents. In Algiers, the Common Ground Collective, a grass-roots coalition, has opened a free clinic.

At West Jefferson Medical Center, the hospital has contracted with the nonprofit Jefferson Community Health Care Centers to set up an urgent-care facility outside West Jefferson's emergency room to care for patients with less serious injuries. The center takes patients on a sliding scale, meaning they pay less or nothing depending on their income and insurance.

"This is a new model of care for our community, and we're really proud of it," Muller said. "It creates access for patients, and avoids delays in the emergency room."

Carol Smith, executive director of Jefferson Community Health Centers, estimates that 65 percent of emergency room cases are not serious crises and can be handled at her facility, which opened on West Jefferson's campus in November. So far, the center is treating between 50 and 75 patients weekly, she said.

Such facilities not only provide immediate relief to area hospitals, but also to patients such as Tom Northrop, who suffered a paralyzing muscle spasm recently in Uptown New Orleans.

These urgent-care facilities are a somewhat recent concept in the healthcare industry. A number of hospitals, though not enough, are creating the facilities to to ease the demand on the costly ED and provide a shorter wait-time for the patient. The post-Katrina New Orleans now sees these as more necessary than ever.

But the problem could have been aleviated years ago if the Charity Hospital system in Louisian had been far-sighted enough to build these before. Because those unable to pay for healthcare were forced to go to the ED instead of their doctor, many chose not to receive proper care or those that did went to t0 the ED unnecessarily. Now DHH is looking into rebuilding a much smaller Charity Hospital along with numerous and smaller community clinics where residents can have shorter wait times closer to home and not be a burden on the much more expensive ED.

A few weeks after the storm, Congressman Bobby Jindal - (R) LA wrote an OpEd in September, 2005 challenging the state to rebuild our healthcare system as the best in the country.

The healthcare system has a great need for community-based outpatient, electronic patient records, bar coding of medical supplies and prescription drugs, and portable private insurance products that encourage patient empowerment.
These technologies are here already, we just need to spend the money to implement it.

We should listen to what Congressman Jindal has to say, not the Times-Picayune.

UPDATE: University Hospital will be opening about 14 ED bays in its now closed facility.

No comments: