Picayune: "LSU won't let facts get in hospital's way"

Times-Picayune: "LSU won't let facts get in hospital's way"
by James Gill

The allegation that state and LSU officials are telling a pack of lies in order to screw the feds out of several hundred million dollars does not come from a source with any claim to disinterest.

It comes from a coalition that wants LSU to abandon its plans for a sparkling new medical complex and reopen Big Charity.

But the coalition has produced plenty of evidence that must require FEMA to consider the possibility of jiggery-pokery.

For LSU the stakes are high, because it will never raise the $1.2 billion needed to extend its medical empire unless it can first persuade FEMA to pay the full value of the old hospital, $492 million.

LSU claimed that Charity was no longer usable after the storm and applied for the full reimbursement FEMA is required to make when public buildings are more than 50 percent damaged in a disaster.

The Bush administration's version of FEMA didn't buy it. FEMA's best offer, after considerable haggling, was $122 million. LSU has appealed and hopes for better luck with the new regime.

The coalition adjures FEMA not to be fooled, and accuses LSU, which wanted out of Charity long before Katrina, of grossly exaggerating the damage, unnecessarily keeping the hospital out of commission and leaving the ailing poor up the creek.

A couple of hundred soldiers, sailors and National Guardsmen worked on the Charity clean-up immediately after the storm, so the feds should not have too much trouble finding witnesses to ask if LSU is pulling a fast one.

In support of the proposition that that is indeed what is going on, the coalition cites two men who were in the thick of things throughout -- an emergency room doctor and an army staff sergeant. Each has averred, under oath, that Charity was sufficiently restored a month after the storm to resume treating patients, but LSU wanted it closed.

The recollections of Dr. James Moises and Sgt. John Johnson do not chime with LSU's. According to the LSU appeal, the Charity basement "was totally inundated by contaminated and corrosive floodwaters for more than 40 days, " and "all utility infrastructure" was out of commission "not for a few days or weeks, but for months." A long list of other woes included "catastrophic environmental failures within the building."

Not so, according to both Moises and Johnson, who say the basement was promptly pumped out, while decontamination teams fanned out on the higher floors.

Moises, in a deposition, said, "The cleanup was essentially complete by September 21. I observed at the time that the first three floors were spotless. Electric power had been restored and the air conditioning was functioning. I personally took pictures at some point in late September 2005 showing the immaculate state of Charity Hospital."

Johnson, a 20-year army veteran, is an electrical specialist in the 205th Engineering battalion, who has done three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Johnson, in an affidavit, described how he quickly restored power to the hospital and noted that "the chemical teams were meticulous." Johnson could "attest from personal knowledge that the emergency room was cleaner than it was before Katrina."

The testimony of two men -- even such apparently credible men as these -- hardly settles the issue, and maybe FEMA will decide LSU is entitled to hit the jackpot. But LSU's only response to the allegations has been a legal quibble. It argues in a brief that the coalition has no standing to intervene and should simply be ignored.

LSU sure is a slow learner. Critics have complained that it has been secretive, high-handed and disingenuous throughout the Charity debate.

Those critics now have more ammunition. LSU appears not to care whether it is trusted or not. "Give us $1.2 billion and go boil your head" is its message to the taxpayer.

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Original Article: "LSU won't let facts get in hospital's way"
by James Gill
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
http://blog.nola.com/jamesgill/2009/05/lsu_wont_let_facts_get_in_hosp.html