Many days in the Pediatric Emergency Department at Lafayette General, I am joined by a Family Practice resident. Residents are apprentice doctors, graduated from medical school, who spend the first years after school in “residency,” programs that teach new doctors their specialties, like Family Practice, Pediatrics, Surgery, or adult Internal Medicine. Our Family Practice residents learn a lot of their pediatric care on my unit.
Every weekday their lunch hour is Noon Conference, usually a lecture. Sometimes Noon Conference is a business meeting involving schedules, preparation for upcoming exams, or new training requirements. Last week, the Tuesday conference was about what happens If University Hospital and Clinics (UHC), the residents’ base hospital, closes.
If you haven’t heard the news, the Louisiana Legislature has an upcoming $692 million budget shortfall. The current plan is to make drastic cuts in state spending, particularly to Louisiana healthcare expenditure. These cuts would close many hospitals around the state, including UHC. With less than two months before the deadline (June 30), the Legislature still has no plan to save UHC.
Besides being a base for resident training, UHC sees about 50,000 patients in it’s Emergency Department per year, and has 116 beds for hospitalized patients. It also has outpatient general and specialty clinics. But it’s biggest mission, with the assistance of units like mine at Lafayette General, is to train Acadiana’s next doctors. That’s the “University” in UHC.
Most residents, in Lafayette and around the country, stay in the community where they trained. A good 75% of Family Practice residents at UHC get a job in the Acadiana area. That’s lots of new doctors. They’re needed to replace doctors who retire, and there’s already a shortage of doctors to see all the patients in need.
If UHC closed, that’s no more new doctors for the Lafayette area. The shortage of doctors seeing patients would get worse. Imagine having to wait months to see your doctor. And what if you got sick? What would happen if you needed to go to the ER, or be hospitalized?
Here’s what would happen. It’s mid-June (a month from now!), and the state Legislature still hasn’t budgeted to save Louisiana’s healthcare system, with it’s doctors, hospitals, and training programs. It’s looking like the worst will come. Hospitals around the state, like UHC here in Lafayette, that train doctors and medical students and see the poorest and sickest patients, will close.
Since resident doctors, those apprentice doctors we discussed above, start their academic years on July 1, they’ll have to be placed elsewhere. The surviving programs in New Orleans and Shreveport will absorb as many residents as they can. Those they can’t take will have to go out of state. The residents and their families will make moving plans. As we discussed above, that’s it for new doctors for the Lafayette area.
When the resident programs close on June 30, they can’t reopen if the Legislature suddenly decides to come up with the money on, say, July 10. It takes years to get a residency program accredited, and if the doors close, there’s no re-opening them days later and saying “just kidding!” Training doctors is serious business, and those who regulate it don’t tolerate poor planning, and capricious closing and opening. Whosever fault it is, Legislature or elsewhere, residencies require stability and competency. So if the UHC residencies shut down, that’s it.
Now it’s July 1. UHC is shuttered, the lights out, the residents gone to programs in other cities. The patients in the hospital have been transferred to the other area hospitals. Lafayette General Medical Center and Lafayette General SouthWest, UHC’s sister hospitals, fill up first. Then Our Lady of Lourdes, Heart Hospital, and Women’s and Children’s are next. With the beds all taken, their Emergency Departments begin to be populated by patients who are “boarding,” awaiting room in the hospital upstairs.
Then the patients who would be served by UHC’s ER and clinics begin to come to those other ERs, already full of boarders. Wait times to get seen in those ERs skyrocket. Waiting rooms and hallways overflow. Ambulances stack up at the ER entrances; the paramedics can’t get their patients off their stretchers and back in service. It starts to look like an apocalyptic movie.
Go to saveUHC.com, push the Take Action button, and let your legislators know. We must save UHC. Or else.