Despite added patient load, charity hospital continues to move forward

Preston Joseph Hebert Sr.
October 28, 2008
Olive "Nookie" Sonnier Pitre
October 30, 2008
Preston Joseph Hebert Sr.
October 28, 2008
Olive "Nookie" Sonnier Pitre
October 30, 2008

The 30-year-old building took a beating from hurricanes Gustav and Ike, but Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center on Industrial Boulevard in East Houma is almost entirely back to normal operations.

The second largest of the 10 hospitals sprinkled throughout the state in the LSU Health Care Services system, Chabert cares mainly for the underinsured and provides a training ground for student physicians and residents.

The hospital is not standing still, though, moving forward with two important additions to its operations.

To ease concerns about the facility possibly flooding from big hurricanes, the hospital is in line to receive its own 8-foot levee surrounding the building and adjacent areas. The Terrebonne Parish Council will vote tonight at its regular meeting to give the $2.8 million levee the go-ahead.

The hospital also began a major new program this month to train internists, which is particularly important since Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes have a shortage of internists.

“Chabert is fully operational,” said hospital CEO Rhonda Green, who has run the facility for little more than a year and was director of nursing for three years before that. “All inpatient and outpatient services are available. We sustained damages to our roof, elevators and exterior siding. Temporary fixes were put in place. Permanent repairs are underway now.”

Of all the state-run hospitals, the 147-bed Chabert was impacted most by the closure of New Orleans’ huge Charity Hospital following Hurricane Katrina because it s proximity. The LSU Interim Public Hospital in New Orleans (the former University Hospital) began operating in November 2006 and became the largest state-run hospital with 249 beds, although Chabert sees the largest number of outpatients, according to Green.

The hospital had more than 200,000 outpatient visits in 2007 compared to LSU-IPH’s.

Green said Chabert admitted 35 percent more patients following Katrina and “ramped up services to be able to accommodate this increase.”

The rise in the number of patients has had a long-lasting effect. “We have sustained our patient volume since the increase post-Katrina,” Green said.

The hospital had a patient population of 67,000 between July 1, 2005 (two months before Katrina) and June 2007. Chabert admitted more than 5,000 patients in 2007, including 532 psychiatric and 547 nursery admissions.

Economically in 2007, Chabert, which employs 875 people, helped to stimulate $190.2 million in business activity, according to a report prepared for the Louisiana Hospital Association.

The hospital received $90.2 million in payments in 2007. Around 45 percent ($40 million) of that came from Medicaid Uncompensated Care. Most of the rest was received from Medicaid, Medicare and the state general fund.

Terrebonne Parish does not contribute any money to the hospital’s operations, but the parish will be footing part of the bill to build the levee around Chabert, with the state paying for the rest.

Green said the new levee is “important. It will protect our area from potential flooding as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.”

The need for the levee was illustrated by drawings presented at recent public meetings by South Lafourche and Terrebonne levee districts Director Windell Curole showing potential floodwaters lapping high at Chabert’s exterior after a major hurricane strike, leaving the hospital looking like an island.

Green said the hospital’s new three-year, Internal Medicine Residency Training Program “is unique to Chabert and not affiliated with any of the medical schools.”

“This is a monumental accomplishment for the hospital and the community,” she said.

“We will be training doctors that will hopefully stay in our community for the future.”

A news release issued by Chabert stated that physicians tend to stay within a 50 to 100 mile radius of where they complete their residencies – good news for the area’s internist shortage.

Internists are able to diagnose many different diseases, but they do not perform surgery.

The residents in the program, which has a budget of around $1.7 million, need to have graduated from an accredited medical school and selected internal medicine as their specialty.

For this year, three residents were accepted. Next year, it will have eight more, but the program is expected to take in 24 residents.

Chabert has endured since its founding in 1978 following the late state Sen. Leonard Chabert’s championing of the project. The hospital has weathered both its transfer from the state Department of Health and Hospitals to LSU in 1997 and the recent hurricanes; it appears well-positioned for the future.

Green said, “We are committed to our mission to provide care to all who enter our doors.”