James Gill: "LSU hospital's prognosis gets worse"

LSU says its spiffy new medical complex, after gobbling up a vast tract of Mid-City, can be ready to open in 2013. If LSU says it, that should be good enough for anybody. It won't open in 2013 for sure. Whether it ever will is the question. The answer looks increasingly like no.

Perhaps this is a shame; with the up-to-the-minute plant envisaged by LSU, New Orleans could pack in more invalids than Lourdes. The streets would be thronged by doctors, medical researchers and students. The economy would just hum along, and the old town would enjoy new prestige across the land.

So say proponents of the new complex, and nobody can deny that we could use the boost that would come from a medical campus also incorporating the new Veterans Affairs hospital, which is due to open in 2012. That date is a real one, for the VA has its money lined up. Not so LSU.

That has not prevented LSU from developing plans even more grandiose than its public pronouncements suggested. Until now we have been led to believe LSU needed to obliterate a national historic district to build its medical complex at a total cost of $1.2 billion. The entire campus, including the VA hospital, is supposed to span 70 acres.

No doubt, $1.2 billion will get you a mighty fine hospital and ancillary buildings, but, as architects' renderings now reveal, not enough to occupy a site of this size. Vast expanses are shown vacant.

LSU plans to grab much more land than it could possibly use for years to come just in case another round of major construction should become feasible later. The $1.2 billion project suddenly becomes "phase one."

LSU has been addicted to hole-and-corner planning from the start, but there is no need for the public to feel left out. Even august personages, and potentially useful allies, got the same treatment. House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, and state Health Secretary Allen Levine were both taken aback to discover LSU was contemplating a phase two.

But these issues seem purely academic. There isn't much point in worrying about phase two, when there is little prospect of phase one.

If LSU is to have any hope of raising enough money for its new medical center, it must first persuade FEMA to hand over $492 million, the full replacement cost of its abandoned Charity Hospital.

LSU, which claims that Charity was so damaged by the storm that it was rendered unusable, must be horrified to discover that FEMA did not just fall off a turnip truck. FEMA this week denied LSU's appeal and decided that Charity could have been restored to its former glory for $150 million.

LSU can appeal further, but tons of evidence, including photographs taken by doctors working there immediately after the storm, indicate that Charity did not come out of the storm in that bad shape.

Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-New Orleans, took up LSU's cause a couple of weeks back when he wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama that "Charity Hospital was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina." Cao is new to Washington. Someone must have told him that telling whoppers is the secret to success there.

Cao's constituents, as he wrote in his letter, have been without "critical services offered by this facility for four years." Perhaps those constituents would have been better served if, as the preservationists argue, LSU had opted to refit and reopen Charity. There will be no "critical services" for many years yet while LSU pursues its wild ambitions.

Even if FEMA should relent, the LSU project will still require huge loans, which may not be easy to come by when the markets are in turmoil and the future of health care most uncertain.

This looks more and more like an overreach by LSU, but it is too early to be certain. All we can be sure about is that the new hospital will not be up and running in 2013.


Original Article: "LSU hospital's prognosis gets worse
by James Gill | The Times-Picayune
May 14th 2009