Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge closed its doors for good last month. The cooperative endeavor agreement between the hospital, the state and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center for the take-over and eventual shutdown of EKL was reached more than two years ago.
Erica Barham, Kimberly Burkett and Lauren Richard are all former Registered Nurse Supervisors in the EKL Emergency Room. Mental Health Emergency Room Extension Supervisor Amy Germain also used to work there.
They tell WRKF’s Ashley Westerman the transition was bungled and even on closing day, critical questions about how patients would get care and follow-up remained unanswered.
WESTERMAN: Tell me a little bit about what your personal closing day was like.
BARHAM: This is Erica. So we closed on Sunday, the 14th. I worked a day shift that Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday was fine. It was a rather good environment. Everybody was, you know, at peace, I guess you could say, and having a good time taking photos together and all that kind of stuff.
On Saturday, they made a list. You couldn’t get into the hospital if your name wasn’t on that list. We were kind of told and given an email, in fact, from our manager that said, “I’m going to put everybody’s name on this list that they want to have for security purposes. Let everybody come up here, say goodbye, clean out their lockers, whatever.” But that’s not what happened. Security wouldn’t let anybody in. There were lots of tears because it got ugly quickly. A nurse tried to come up, all she wanted to do was empty out her locker and tell everybody goodbye, and security refused to let her in the building. And that happened continuously throughout the day.
WESTERMAN: So the hospital has been closed for a couple of weeks now. Were you all prepared for closing day?
BARHAM: This is Erica. Absolutely not. We were prepared for November and then all of a sudden, it’s like they’re rushing everything, we’re not being told anything at all. There’s still not plan, they still have unanswered questions. We still don’t know what’s going to happen to our prisoners, we still don’t know what’s going to happen with our psyche patients. We don’t know what’s happening to any of our patients. And even up ‘til the last day, we didn’t even know: What time is the ER closing? What time are we not taking patients anymore? How is this going to work? They didn’t tell us any of that.
RICHARD: This is Lauren. The major problems I think I had to was the uncertainty for patients. Patients were asking questions such as, “Who do I call for follow-up? Where do I call for follow-up?” We were still scheduling outpatient testing, outpatient procedures from the emergency room and telling the patients, “Well, at some point in time, you have an appointment for this. We don’t know where. We don’t know how. We don’t know where you call. Just call this number and hopefully someone’s going to be able to help you.”
The policies and procedures are still not in place in the clinics. Patient visit numbers are down in the clinic because patients aren’t either able to get to the new clinics, have no idea where the new clinics are. It’s very difficult for the patients at this point to receive the care they were receiving prior to us.
WESTERMAN: And, Amy, you’re the supervisor of the...basically you’re in charge of the facility that mental health patients go to when they wait to get placement.
St. GERMAIN: Okay, it’s rapid stabilization for patients with mental health crisis. That’s what our goal was. And there still is no solution or transition of my patients population anywhere.
WESTERMAN: Were any of those concerns addressed by anyone?
BURKETT: This is Kim. We addressed our concerns on a daily basis and as far up the ladder as we could go and we kept being told over and over again, “We Don’t know. Nobody’s telling us anything.” Even our own Emergency Medical Director, up until the very last day, was told that, “We don’t have anything to tell you.” So he did not know the answer to any of these questions, he was as much in the dark as we were and I just think that’s very sad.
WESTERMAN: So, let me understand you, there were no transition plans handed down from anyone?
BARHAM: This is Erica. No, absolutely not. I mean, if there were, we were not included in the Emergency Room. And as supervisors in the Emergency Room, we were kind of expected to know what was going on and patients are looking at us with tears in their eyes asking, “Where do we go?” And I had no answer.
BURKETT: This is Kim. I think the one thing that the public is not really aware of is that we have so many working poor in Baton Rouge. People who work for minimum wage, people who do not have the opportunity to further their education to get jobs that pay more than minimum wage. These are people who depend on walking, bicycles and our bus service to get to where they need to go and they have basically, in my opinion, they have basically been thrown the the street and told, “Do or die."
WRKF reached out to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center for comment on this story. An OLOL spokeswoman says EKL was a state-run facility and the leadership of that hospital was responsible for communication with employees. We will hear from a roundtable of OLOL officials for updates and progress notes on the transition next week.