LOCAL

Ascension Parish finance committee discusses healthcare agreement with OLOL

Michael Tortorich
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

The Ascension Parish Council's finance committee passed to the full council a proposed cooperative endeavor agreement between parish government and Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, Inc. during the Jan. 9 meeting held in Gonzales.

Dr. Chris Trevino of the OLOL system, in speaking to the committee, said around ten years ago Tess Stromberg, who is currently a judge in the 23rd Judicial District, and Teri Casso, a longtime member of the parish council, met him at his office to discuss behavioral health and the court system.

"There was lots of discussion back and forth but not a lot of momentum until more recently," Trevino said. "So it really began a number of years ago. As of two years ago we were specifically asked to come and do an evaluation. Healthcare is an extremely complicated industry. It's expensive, it's got a lot of regulatory oversight, and it's people's lives you're dealing with, so you have to get it right."

A two-year analysis found good work being done, but also significant gaps in the parish's operations, he added.

"This agreement is a public-private partnership between Our Lady of the Lake and the parish. The goal of this is a collaboration between the two of us, a five-year partnership that offers an opportunity to develop an infrastructure that would provide a comprehensive mental health, behavioral health, preventative care, and community wellness initiative to improve the health of our citizens," Trevino said.

The proposed services include community mental health services, mobile and children's health services, and public health and wellness.

The community mental health services include judicial system support (court-ordered treatment and pre-trial diversion program), medical assistant treatment program (treatment of opioid addiction), psychiatry services (increase availability of clinicians and patients seen), and counseling.

In public health and wellness, the vision is to expand services to five days per week and for services to be available on-call 24/7.

Additionally, My Chart is an electronic medical record that is an extension of the hospital's Epic software program. It allows patients to schedule appointments at any time and access their personal medical data.

The plan also would increase preventative screenings, integrated mental and behavioral health, and pediatric primary care.

In mobile wellness and medical clinics, the plan would provide medical and behavioral services to help families meet requirements for Head Start.

In a file photo, Dr. Chris Trevino is shown during a virtual conference with state Rep. Tony Bacala.

"At the end of the day, here's the deal. We are trying to figure out how to extend healthcare to those who can't get it. The truth is all of you guys, if you need healthcare, you get in your car and go. If you had to go to Texas, you'd get in your car and go," Trevino said in speaking to the committee.

Trevino recalled his 25-year career working as physician in Gonzales, dating back to when the hospital was called Riverview. While much of his time over the years was spent serving the east side of the parish, his first emergency room shift was in Donaldsonville at Prevost Memorial Hospital.

In a candid moment, he admitted failure in not being more aggressive on the west side of the parish.

"Frankly speaking, it's been a failure for all of us on the west bank because we are the wealthiest parish, highest income per capita, but yet we have one of the poorest cities in that parish. I'm not proud of the fact that I have not extended my facility and my mission to the west bank. I'm fixing that with this agreement," Trevino said.

The committee spent much of its time discussing aspects of the contract as well as how to transition its 15 employees working in the healthcare field.

If approved by the full parish council, the agreement would go into effect within a grace period of 90 days.

The committee members agreed to further discussion when it goes before the full council as an item on an upcoming regular meeting agenda.

Council members Corey Orgeron and Travis Turner were absent for the committee meeting.

Gonzales Weekly Citizen and Donaldsonville Chief, part of the USA Today Network of Louisiana, cover Ascension Parish and the greater Baton Rouge area. Follow at facebook.com/WeeklyCitizen and facebook.com/DonaldsonvilleChief.