PINEVILLE - After 70-plus years of medical service to the poor, Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville will be shut down, and its operations will move to England Airpark by the summer of 2014.
Gov. Bobby Jindal made the announcement Thursday at the LSU Health Sciences Center building on Vandenburg Drive in England Airpark. The center now serves as an outpatient facility, but it will be renovated to take over medical services now provided at the hospital in Pineville.
A nearby building in the airpark, the former site of St. Rita School, will house the outpatient services. "The old building (in Pineville) has served the community well for over seven decades," Jindal said. "It's time to build a modern-care facility."
The estimated cost to modernize the airpark buildings is $30 million. The England Authority has pledged $5 million. Jindal said the remainder will be financed by state-backed bonds included in 2012-13 capital outlay legislation. Jindal said the cost benefits of modernizing the airpark building far outweighed building a new facility.
The estimated cost of a brand new medical complex in Central Louisiana is $230 million, according to the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors, which released the Huey P. Long business plan Thursday.
The LSU Board of Supervisors is expected to approve the project today in Baton Rouge. LSU in the 1990s took over running the state's charity hospitals.
Once completed, the renovated hospital will differ from old Huey P. Long.
The new facility will be in two buildings instead of the 12 on the Pineville campus. There will be 22 acute inpatient beds at the airpark instead of 40, many of which go unused. The new facility will offer single-bed rooms to cut down on infections.
And there will be 19 adult psychiatric beds instead of 16.
Four beds at England Airpark will be specially equipped to care for prisoners. Huey P. Long doctors and nurses now care for thousands of prisoners each year who come from jails in eight parishes and have no secured rooms. And there will be six post-acute beds for recovering patients who no longer need the costly round-the-clock care. The airpark hospital will have five fewer beds than Huey P. Long currently has, according to LSU.
The outpatient clinic, to be across Vandenburg Drive at the closed St. Rita School building, will be open 12 hours a day Monday through Friday and eight hours on Saturday. Currently, people needing clinic care at Huey P. Long must visit during normal working hours.
"Working families today are limited, the hours and access (to a clinic) are limited," Jindal said, adding that expanded hours should cut down on costly emergency room visits.
"We're one of the worst states in the country when it comes to non-emergency visits to the emergency room," he said.
The streamlined operations will take a few less employees. John Daily, with LSU, said there could be 25 to 36 fewer employees at the new facilities. Huey P. Long now employs around 570. Daily said yearly attrition might make layoffs unnecessary.
Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields said moving the hospital from Pineville to outside Alexandria is "not a devastating loss, not when you recognize it's not a loss for Pineville, it's a gain for Central Louisiana and this region." "I'm solidly behind it," Fields said.
Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy said health care and how to deliver it are vexing problems in the United States. "While a clear, unified, comprehensive solution will probably elude all of us on the longer-term problem, the preservation of Huey P. Long, today " is vital," Roy said.
Built in 1939, Huey P. Long Medical Center offers medical and psychiatric services to those without insurance or with no money. The hospital continues to treat patients in its emergency rooms. In fiscal 2011, there were almost 36,000 visits.
In the same period, 2,340 people checked in for inpatient stays, according to LSU.
"While the (Huey P. Long) facility in Pineville has a noble history, it has outlived its usefulness as an acute-care facility," LSU said.
The England Airpark facility, meanwhile, is in better shape, officials said. The building used to house a hospital for England Air Force Base, which closed in the early 1990s.
Story courtesy of The Town Talk Written by: Billy Gunn