Clinic funding in jeopardy

Moss Memorial Health Clinic, 1000 Walters St., Lake Charles, Louisiana (Rick Hickman / American Press)

Rick HickmanRickHickmanPhotographer
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Lake Charles Memorial Health System officials said the proposed state budget could leave tens of thousands of low-income and poor patients without access to local specialty care at Moss Memorial Health Clinic.

House lawmakers approved the budget legislation, also known as House Bill 1, with a 55-47 vote April 19. The measure, pending consideration by the Senate Finance Committee, calls for $583 million in general fund reductions to the state Department of Health. The total cut, including a loss of federal health care dollars, would be $1.9 billion.

“It’s beyond frustrating, especially when your heart is oriented toward doing the right thing,” Bernita Loyd, Moss Memorial administrator, said Tuesday of the proposed cuts. “To go through this is very stressful.”

Loyd said the clinic saw 11,000 patients last year. She said patients, especially the poor and low-income, are more willing to visit hospitals if the care is easily accessible. But they may forgo the care if they’re forced to drive to hospitals in Shreveport or New Orleans.

Dr. Mohammed Sarwar, medical director at Moss, has worked at the hospital for more than 20 years. He said a complete cut of state funding would be “a disaster” for poor patients who need specialized medical care.

“If any of these disruptions of services happen, I can’t imagine what will happen to the patients,” Sarwar said. “I’m afraid they are going to die on the streets.”

After the privatization of Moss Regional Hospital in 2013, Loyd said specialty services, like radiology, gastroenterology and pulmonary care, were introduced. Clinic visits increased dramatically, she said.

“We put life into those systems,” Loyd said. “We re-established surgeries and opened an urgent care as well. There are no longer backlogs or waits; patients can be seen the same day.”

Loyd said cancer patients seeking chemotherapy would be forced to travel to hospitals in Shreveport or New Orleans. She said Moss treats 350 oncology patients per month.

Along with reduced patient services, Loyd said a complete lack of state funding would eliminate 225 jobs on the Moss campus, and an additional 175 employees throughout the Lake Charles Memorial Health System.

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