End of Earl K. Long's emergency mental health service could be 'rather disastrous'

POSTED: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 6:30pm

UPDATED: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 6:49pm

A parish with limited resources for mental health care will lose one of its effective systems in two weeks.

The mental health emergency room extension, or MHERE, at Earl K. Long Memorial hospital will close April 8, a week before the hospital as a whole shuts down.

"I think it's cause for great concern," said East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. William "Beau" Clark.

Clark oversees mental health care for the parish, and said Monday it does not currently have the ability to properly care for all its mental health patients.

"Last year alone, we did 604 orders of protective custody through the coroner's office," he said. "Then again, last year in 2012, that was 4,362 people in our parish were under a coroner's emergency certificate, so quite a few folks."

Patients under an emergency certificate can be held for up to fifteen days, though many are released before that.

While money is not a consideration in deciding to release a patient, keeping any patient in a hospital is costly.

"We all know that outpatient treatment of medical conditions, regardless of whether they're mental health or other things, like high blood pressure or diabetes, are way cheaper than being admitted to the hospital," Clark said.

Earl K. Long dedicated part of its emergency room to its mental health patients, joining a recent trend. Doctors and nurses checked for medication the patient might have been on, because getting them to take their pills again often solved the patient's problems.

"Instead of being placed inpatient, which oftentimes is very expensive," Clark said, "they were put into an outpatient scenario, which is less expensive, and they got what they needed at the end."

Hospitals in New Orleans, Pineville, and Lafayette also have MHERE programs in place, but Earl K. Long's is the only one in the greater Baton Rouge area. While other local hospitals are adding beds for inpatient care, none has said if they will adopt the MHERE model.

"Certainly," Clark stated, "it's very uncertain what the future's going to hold, but it potentially could be rather disastrous."

Making the switch would not be difficult, according to Clark.

"I think the formula's there," he claimed. "Now here's the thing: it's the money. Who's got the money to pay for it?"

Most of Earl K. Long's services will be taken over by Our Lady of the Lake, in a partnership negotiated by LSU. Our Lady of the Lake said it has added 20 inpatient beds for mental health patients, bringing its total to 69.

"There was a shortage of inpatient beds already," Clark said, "so it's good to see that Our Lady of the Lake has increased inpatient beds, because they are definitely going to be needed, there's no doubt about that."

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