Health Unit nears completion

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 30, 2002


LULING – The new St. Charles Parish Health Unit, under construction since April, should be open this April, at a cost of $1.3 million. Designed to be the prototype of a new health-care delivery concept for Louisiana, the facility, located 843 Milling Ave., behind St. Charles Parish Hospital, is ahead of schedule.

The facility is expected to be funded by an annual $650,000 federal grant, approved on three-year cycles, with maintenance and other expenses being picked up by the hospital and by operational income. Mark Keiser, spokesman for the hospital, said the facility is aimed at providing preventative health care services, especially for the economically disadvantaged, so as not to strain the resources of the hospital itself.

Keiser said Louisiana is ranked at the bottom of the 50 states in population health, a report he linked largely to inadequate health care for expectant mothers, infants and children. The facility will address the needs of the estimated 16,000 parish residents who would qualify to receive the health care services the facility will provide.

These include classes for new mothers in proper nutrition and a child immunization program.

“If we can get a healthy start for them, we can head off problems down the road,” Keiser said.

In summer 2000, health units across Louisiana were faced with the possibility of closing its doors for good, leaving the burden of preventative care for those residents to rural hospitals – a function for which they are not designed.

St. Charles Parish Hospital administrator Fred Martinez, also a board member of the Rural Hospital Coalition, worked with state and federal authorities to develop a joint venture project.

In this concept, the hospital will assume administrative duties outside its own facility, while boosting the health care possibilities for the health unit.

“The concept is really good for the state,” Martinez said.

Fifteen similar facilities are under consideration across rural parts of Louisiana, Keiser said, but the St. Charles facility will be the “poster child” for the concept.

The current health unit is in a 2,000-square-foot rented facility a few blocks away at 201 Post Drive, which was routinely cited by the St. Charles Parish Grand Jury for its inadequacies. While the hospital has since gone in and made improvements, the new health unit opening in April will take the program a quantum leap forward. The old health unit space is being leased by the parish on a month-to-month basis.

The new facility is 12,205 square feet in size and includes 16 examination rooms and offices for two pediatricians, as well as classroom space for the WIC program and the office and facilities for the parish sanitarian. Keiser said the facility experienced some weather-related construction delays during 2002.

Equipment and furniture has been ordered and with the roof and walls in place, the interior finishing is well under way.

The 310-day project is being built by Lamar Contractors of Kenner, who won the job with a $1,315,800 bid. The architect is Joseph B. Caillouet of Thibodaux.

Workers during one recent rainstorm which flooded the parking lot (before the subsurface drainage work was complete), found a 4-inch fish which found its way there from the nearby marsh.

The same fish, now nearly a foot in length, will be the first new resident of the health unit, placed in a decorative pond near the front entrance.