For 75 years, a cornerstone of The Baton Rouge Clinic has been its dedication to the community. The staff and physicians showcase this commitment every day, but over the years, it has become even more apparent during times of crisis. Whether it’s a natural disaster or a public health emergency, the Clinic has stepped up time and again when there is an urgent need.
Dr. Jamar Melton still has vivid memories of working with other doctors to set up a pediatric section of a field hospital at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center immediately after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The 20-bed unit came together in rapid fashion once the storm passed.
“Within 48 hours, I was in charge of pediatric services at this field hospital,” Dr. Melton recalled. “During the first four days, we were seeing 60 to 85 children a day. We met with all Baton Rouge pediatricians, including those with the Baton Rouge Clinic, and were able to remain staffed 24/7 for seven days.”
The results were so impressive that Dr. Melton and other physicians authored an article about the unit in a leading medical journal. Even after 16 years, the level of care that children received amid such dire circumstances remains a point of pride for Dr. Melton.
“I think the most impressive thing was to see the family members calm down once they knew their children would receive what they needed,” he said. “They would hug us. We would share tears. It was all about doing what was necessary to care for these children. It’s still rewarding to this day.”
When the 2016 flood severely damaged Melvia Richard’s Baton Rouge home, she was the one who needed care and reassurance. Richard has been a Clinic employee for the past 26 years and is currently a Reimbursement AR Supervisor. As she and her family began their recovery from the flood, her Clinic colleagues stepped up with donations of clothes, household items, food and more.
“There are absolutely no words for how grateful we were. I still get choked up when I think about how people came together to help us,” Richard said. “I could never repay them for the love and unity the Clinic showed us. It’s why I’ve been here for 26 years. It is why I love this place.”
The outpouring of support was touching, although not necessarily surprising, Richard said. Over the years, she has seen how Clinic leaders are understanding when employees need to take time off or handle personal challenges.
“When the Clinic says we are all in this together, that is a true statement,” she said. “They have the best interest of the people at heart. I believe that’s why the Clinic is so successful and has been here for 75 years. You don’t have that kind of longevity without really caring.”
Dr. Lara Falcon, an internal medicine specialist at The Baton Rouge Clinic, noted that such care becomes even more vital after storms, when utilities may be out of service, transportation can be difficult and products may be hard to find. But Dr. Falcon noted that Clinic physicians have routinely overcome these challenges after hurricanes like Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ida.
“We’ve always done our best to maintain Clinic hours and be available to care for both our regular patients and their relatives who might have evacuated from somewhere else,” Dr. Falcon said. “Our mission is always to keep people well, keep people out of the emergency room and offer them the easiest possible access to the care they need.”
That mission has been top of mind for Clinic physicians and staff since the first COVID-19 cases emerged in Baton Rouge in early 2020. The past 19 months have been filled with treating patients with the virus, encouraging mitigation measures and providing thousands of vaccines.
“These have obviously been historic times,” said Dr. Venkat Banda. Dr. Banda is the Medical Director over the Clinic’s Hospital Medicine Program. “During the first surge, we were all scared. As time has gone on, we’ve gotten more comfortable dealing with the pandemic. We’ve learned to adapt and have a newfound respect for each other, ourselves, and our ability to be resilient and take care of more patients than we thought we could.”
Dr. Falcon is particularly proud of how the Clinic has adjusted its operations in response to the virus to ensure everyone stays as healthy as possible. Earlier during the pandemic, the Clinic’s urgent care facility was transformed into a location to treat only COVID patients. This allowed individuals to receive necessary care while also alleviating the strain on local emergency rooms. Dr. Falcon added that many Clinic physicians pivoted to video visits with patients to reduce their chances of exposure to the virus. When the COVID vaccines became available, the Clinic immediately set up dedicated areas to administer the shots.
“The balance is between treating COVID patients and making sure our other patients remain safe and receive the care they need for other conditions,” Dr. Falcon explained. “I think the Clinic has done a really good job with both of those, as well as making sure employees are safe.”
Dr. Aaron DeWitt said he has been impressed with the compassion and resources the Clinic has shown to other medical facilities and local physicians during the pandemic. DeWitt, who works as a Baton Rouge Clinic Hospitalist at the Baton Rouge General, noted that Clinic staff have communicated regularly with other doctors about COVID treatments, as well as ways they can be of service.
“We’ve had numerous Clinic physicians ask if we need help in the hospital. They are always there whenever we need them,” Dr. DeWitt said. “It’s been a community effort on the part of the Clinic to take care of patients during a situation that can become overwhelming. I think it has really strengthened the medical community in Baton Rouge.”
Dr. Banda said he has also noticed a new sense of teamwork and collaboration, which he attributes in part to the Clinic’s ability and willingness to work with multiple hospitals and medical facilities. For example, Dr. Banda pointed out that the Baton Rouge Clinic coordinated one of the first large-scale COVID testing sites that brought together personnel from multiple hospitals.
“Having the Clinic coordinate all of this and serve as a bridge between different entities has been tremendous,” Dr. Banda said. “It’s a privilege to be able to serve this community and to be a part of this work.”
To read more Baton Rouge Clinic Anniversary Stories by The Advocate, please click here.