Move Over LSU: Make Room For Our Vets!

Perhaps you heard about an exciting new compromise proposal on the table in the long-standing controversy over the proposed LSU/VA medical center. The new idea would allow construction on a new VA Hospital to begin now without resolving the still simmering controversy over whether it is better to build a modern teaching hospital in the facade of historic Charity Hospital or seize private land to build a more expensive, sprawling campus.

Instead of forcing the VA to expropriate and destroy the tight-knit residential community north of Galvez St., the compromise would swap the VA into the less-populated land near I-10 and Claiborne Ave. that has been banked by LSU. The VA could finish building a new hospital to care for returning veterans sooner than if they were to continue struggling to untangle the complications inherent to land decisions that would destroy residential communities, a fate the Department of Veterans Affairs has heretofore been relegated by LSU's decision to reserve the most viable land for itself.

The new idea has been proposed in a radio ad purchased by Smart Growth Louisiana, which can be heard below.

The proposed development in Lower Mid-City has stalled because LSU does not have the money it needs to begin construction on its new teaching facility but has stuck the Department of Veterans Affairs, which does have the funding to get started, with a difficult and morally hazardous land acquisition process. LSU's proposal is also controversial because of evidence that they and the state have misrepresented damage incurred at Charity Hospital in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in an attempt to justify the expense of building an expensive new facility.

Recently, a federal arbitration panel finished hearing testimony from the state of Louisiana and FEMA and will soon settle the amount the state will be reimbursed for storm damage at Charity Hospital.

Yet, even if the state receives the maximum amount of funding possible under arbitration, over half a billion dollars, there will still be a shortfall of several hundred million dollars that will continue to stall construction.

LSU has proposed building a $1.2 billion campus between Claiborne Ave. and Galvez St. The state has allocated $300 million toward that cost and the most the federal arbitration will provide is $492 million. Even granting LSU's own cost estimates, over $400 million will need to be borrowed in an extremely volitle bond market. State Treasurer John Kennedy and others have repeatedly warned against betting on LSU's ability to raise so much money given the changes to healthcare financing promised under federal healthcare reform.

Advocates for Charity Hospital have pointed to a study by the internationally renown architecture firm RMJM that proposes reusing the historic facade of Charity Hospital and building a state-of-the-art facility inside. The RMJM plan would cost hundreds of millions of dollars less and could be finished in less time.

This compromise proposal would allow the VA to begin construction on the Claiborne Ave. to Galvez St. site while the residential neighborhood between Galvez St. and Rocheblave St. could be saved without forcing a definitive solution to the dispute over the merits of an expensive, sprawling medical campus compared to the RMJM plan to incorporate the facade of Charity Hospital.

Given President Obama's recent decision to commit more troops overseas in Afghanistan, it is more important than ever to allow the VA to build a hospital to care for returning veterans as quickly as possible. Will LSU and state officials accept a compromise that will allow them to do so?