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Concerns Behind the Celebration

With golden-bladed shovels, Governor John Bel Edwards, much of the Baton Rouge area legislative delegation and officials with Our Lady of the Lake broke ground Tuesday for a new emergency room for north Baton Rouge.

“The addition we’re breaking ground on today will offer a level of access to emergency care that just simply hasn’t been here since the emergency rooms at Earl K. Long and at Baton Rouge General closed,” the governor said, adding, “This is about better serving the people of Louisiana, especially in north Baton Rouge. It’s about saving lives.”

Yet behind the sunny celebration yesterday lurked the shadows of very real concerns—on the long-term prognosis for funding health care in Louisiana, and the sustainability of the public-private hospital partnerships.

“The Department of Health’s going to take some really bad cuts that I don’t want them to take, but we’re trying to make sure that we don’t hit the partner hospitals,” Edwards said. “And I’m fairly confident that we’re going to be able to make that happen.”

He was speaking of the upcoming special session, dealing with the midyear budget shortfall. Promising he’ll be releasing his plan for the cuts on February 6th, he says in the meantime he’s in regular negotiations with lawmakers over the least damaging ways to rebalance the budget.

“Yeah, every day.,” he said, with a rueful chuckle. “Every day I have those discussions.”

As for progress on getting Republican lawmakers to go along with the his administration’s recommendations, Edwards says, “You know, they say, ‘Well, we don’t know if we want to hit the Rainy Day Fund’, but they don’t want the cuts either. And without that, that’s $120-million more in cuts that we have to make.”

But will the state’s $5.5-million commitment toward building the north Baton Rouge ER be among those cuts?

“Under no circumstances are we going to jeopardize this emergency room,” Governor Edwards stated.