NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The chief medical officer at University Medical Center says proposed state budget cuts would cripple health care services, and people other than the poor in Louisiana would be affected.
Dr. Peter DeBlieux said even people with health insurance have a lot to lose in terms of medical care if the cuts become reality.
"If you're driving down the highway, you get in a car collision and you need access to the only level one trauma center, understanding that the next closest one is Houston; Shreveport; Jackson, Mississippi, which directly affects your health care," he said while standing in an unoccupied trauma room in UMC's sprawling emergency room.
The state faces a billion-dollar deficit for the fiscal year that ends in June. The Department of Health and Hospitals, which oversees state healthcare services, would have to cut tens of millions of dollars in the next few months if the budget crisis is not resolved in the special legislative session that is nearing an end.
"It's access. People's ability to seek the care that they need will be impaired, so people being able to get into clinics, people having emergency department care and people having necessary, life-saving operations - all of that would be limited," DeBlieux said.
The special session ends March 9, but the budget mess has not been cured.'
"We're looking at taking steps backwards from where we were. All of the work that we've done to rebuild, all of the investments that we've made," said Susan Todd, executive director of 504Healthnet.
Mental health resources are on the line, as well.
"And that impacts me, impacts you, impacts your family members, everybody in our community would be touched by such a measure," DeBlieux said.
"So you're looking at not only the money that's going to be cut from the state, but that money is matched by federal dollars," said Todd.
Then there is the impact deep spending cuts could have on personnel at UMC and medical education at the medical complex.
"Roughly 70 percent of physicians that practice within this state come through this facility or its predecessor," DeBlieux said.
And that does not include all of the nurses and other medical professionals afforded training at UMC and before that the old Charity Hospital in New Orleans. And concerns about the budget cuts could hurt UMC's efforts to recruit top-notch medical specialists.
"Two weeks ago I met with a bone cancer specialist. There's not one in our community currently, there's not one at LSU, there's not one at Tulane, they don't exist in our community. We're trying to attract that individual back here to take care of our children and our adults that have bone cancer to prevent them from going to Memphis for their cancer care, Houston for their cancer care, Birmingham for their cancer care," DeBlieux said.
He said with the state poised to expand Medicaid eligibility, more resources will be needed, not less.