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Ochsner Baptist to Open ER

JEMS.com Editor's Note: Julette Saussey, MD, FACEP, was New Orleans EMS (NOEMS) director and medical director during Hurricane Katrina. Click here to read more about her.

NEW ORLEANS -- Ochsner Baptist Medical Center will reopen the emergency room at the Napoleon Avenue hospital by the end of 2008, expanding emergency services in a city that has been seriously short of them since Hurricane Katrina.

Hospital Chief Executive Officer Robert Wolterman said Wednesday that the 12-bed emergency room will occupy the same space on Clara Street as the similar facility at the former Memorial Medical Center.

The ER has been closed since Katrina heavily damaged Memorial, known for many years as Baptist Hospital, in 2005.

Ochsner Health System bought the 317-bed hospital from Tenet Healthcare Corp. in October 2006, changed the name to Ochsner Baptist Medical Center and began gradually reopening it.

Wolterman said Ochsner has invested more than $30 million in the Baptist campus, which currently has 25 in-patient beds, an intensive care unit and six operating rooms. There are plans to add 30 more beds and expand the ICU by the end of the year.

"The ER renovation will cost an estimated $4 million and we expect to see about 15,000 to 20,000 patient visits in the first year, which translates to about 40-50 visits per day," said Dr. Joe Guarisco, Ochsner's chief of emergency services. "We believe these services will help fill a significant need for emergency care in New Orleans."

Although residents have been able to visit emergency rooms at Touro Infirmary, Tulane University Hospital, Ochsner's main campus on Jefferson Highway and other facilities, bringing emergency care back to Baptist will have several benefits for residents, Guarisco said.

"By adding another full-service ER to the area, patients and ambulances won't have to travel as far for emergency care. The Baptist ER will ease wait times and enable patients to get immediate attention," he said.

Wolterman acknowledged that Ochsner's failure to reopen the emergency room and other facilities at the hospital sooner has drawn criticism.

Some critics said Ochsner was reluctant to reopen the ER for financial reasons. Local hospitals have had to absorb large numbers of uninsured patients through their emergency rooms since Charity Hospital closed after the storm. Ochsner officials said the system sees more uninsured patients through its seven hospitals than any other hospital or medical system in the area.

"We get beat up a lot for the delay," Wolterman said, "but there are only so many things we can do at a time.

"We've been assessing the market and trying to respond to needs," he said. "As the demand for care grows, we'll continue to add in-patient beds and additional services."

Construction of the ER is about 50 percent finished.

Wolterman said the hospital, which has more than 300 doctors on staff, has doctors ready to staff the emergency room but that it "will certainly be a challenge" to find enough other workers.

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