Lately, some seem to be treating the proposed LSU/VA hospitals as a done deal. But anyone involved in the ongoing process knows one thing is clear: when it comes to Charity Hospital and Lower Mid-City, things aren't clear at all.
Recently, a meeting on adaptive re-use of the now-vacant Rev. Avery C. Alexander Charity Hospital building revealed a stark message: citizens of New Orleans want the building to be re-opened as a hospital. Nevertheless, representatives of the State of Louisiana and its contractor, Jacobs Engineering, adamantly opposed any effort to discuss the hospital option.
So what will happen to the building? Is demolition actually off the table? At this point, it is unclear what the state intends to do with Charity Hospital. That doesn't seem to bother the state, however. A representative from Jacobs noted that bidding for the adaptive reuse would begin early in 2011, and a contractor would be chosen in the spring - an extremely rapid turnaround time given the lack of certainty as to the actual reuse, as one meeting attendee noted. It's so rapid, in fact, that it raises questions about whether the state, Jacobs, and a few of its select "consulting parties"...already know what the adaptive reuse will be, despite going through the motions of public input sessions.
In Lower Mid-City, we want to know this: how will the city protect its own residents from the abuses of the site preparation for the proposed hospitals? Recently, two residents of the proposed VA Hospital footprint filed suit in federal court to stop the proposed cut-off of utilities to residences - where they still had a legal right to remain, despite the state's attempt to strong-arm the last residents in the area:
To date, it appears the state has backed away from its plan to cut utilities while residents remain. Indeed, Entergy has refused to cut power to residents who continue to pay.
We have to ask: is this simply a foretaste of what's to come in the footprint of the proposed University Medical Center (LSU Footprint) hospital across S. Galvez? This entire unfortunate exercise would have been avoided if LSU had simply rebuilt in Charity, as we've said all along.
It's also unclear what legal arrangement governs site preparation in the VA Hospital footprint. The Cooperative Endeavor Agreement between the state and the city expired in August of 2010, from what we can tell. It raises the question: in the absence of any formal agreement, what liabilities does the City of New Orleans remain liable for, should they arise from the site preparation?
Across S. Galvez, the demolitions have stopped in the LSU Footprint - for now. That's fortunate because the UMC Board STILL does not have sufficient financing in place to build its hospital. And, since the UMC and the state are still apparently unclear about the nature of their relationship, it's relevant to note that the state's funding picture is looking bleak. The past few weeks have seen news articles outlining the massive budget cuts across departments and public institutions all over Louisiana.
Somehow, despite all the fiscal pain out there, the proposed LSU Hospital (UMC) remains a sacred cow: