Review The Plans

The health care crisis in New Orleans demands an expedient, responsible and comprehensive solution. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, LSU and the VA put forward a plan to abandon Charity Hospital and build a new LSU Academic Medical Center and VA Medical Complex (VAMC). LSU estimates that these new facilities would cost a combined $2 billion and take at least 8 years to build. LSU has not completed the financing of its facility, being at least $800 million short of its goal. The federal government has appopriated $600 million for a new VA facility, with VA officials stating they will need to ask Congress for an additional $200 million. The LSU/VA proposal demolishes or moves all the buildings from a 27-block area, including the destruction of 249 buildings, 165 of which are part of a National Register district.

Footprint of LSU/VA proposal that would abandon Charity Hospital

The Foundation for Historical Louisiana (FHL) commissioned a $600,000 study by RMJM Hillier, a highly respected architecture/planning firm that concluded a retrofitted Charity could serve as LSU’s teaching hospital and that the VA’s part of the medical complex could be moved to the site currently favored by LSU, a site adjacent to I-10 that minimizes the destruction of Lower Mid-City. The RMJM Hillier/FHL proposal would centralize health care services in the Downtown Medical District.

Footprint of RMJM Hillier/FHL proposal to rebuild Charity Hospital

By rebuilding Charity Hospital to serve as the new LSU Academic Medical Center, the RMJM Hillier/FHL proposal would save taxpayers at least $283 million for the hospital portion alone. The RMJM Hillier/FHL proposal would take less than half the time to complete, returning these needed health care services at least four and a half years sooner than the LSU/VA proposal.

Rebuilding Charity Hospital Saves $283 Million
Cost Comparison of RMJM/FHL plan to rebuild Charity Hospital & LSU Academic Medical Complex

The LSU/VA Proposal
LSU's position is that the Charity Hospital building was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and, in order to bring back needed health care services, they need to build a new academic medical complex. The New Orleans Veterans Affairs Medical Center was severely damaged during Katrina and services such as ambulatory, inpatient, and surgical care are currently being provided outside the New Orleans area and veterans are having to travel to other locations, across Louisiana and beyond, to receive necessary healthcare.

To address these needs, LSU proposed to locate the new facilities adjacent to one another on the 67-acre site in Lower Mid-City. Representatives from LSU long touted "synergy" as the fundamental reason for the site selection and adjacent location of the LSU Academic Medical Complex and VA Medical Complex, testifying under oath that shared services would save $400 million over 25 years. Less than two months later, however, LSU rescinded these claims saying "(VA officials) can't plan on building a hospital that depends on the sharing of critical components."

The current LSU/VA proposal would locate the new medical facilities on a 70-acre site in Lower Mid-City. The boundaries of the proposed sites extend from Tulane Avenue to Canal Street – and from Claiborne Avenue and Rocheblave Street.

The LSU design team testified that the plan strives to express the unique character and "specialness of New Orleans" but there is no evidence of this in the designs. The proposed scale of the buildings has nothing to do with the scale and mass of the adjacent neighborhood. As you can see in the design for the LSU Academic Medical Complex, this new facility would place the bed towers in rows on Canal Street, which was widely criticized by planning organizations, architects and preservationists. They create "superblocks" – virtually erasing the grid pattern of streets and making the site less accessible to pedestrian traffic.

There has been considerable criticism that the location of the proposed new medical complexes effectively turns its back on the Central Business District and is difficult to access. As these pictures show, the only apparent entry point is at Canal and Galvez Streets. There has been much concern that this would make the hospitals difficult to access, especially because there appears to be little consideration given to public transportation.

The RMJM Hillier/Foundation For Historical Louisiana Proposal
The Foundation for Historical Louisiana, as charged by the Louisiana Legislature, hired the internationally renowned architectural firm, RMJM Hillier, to examine and evaluate the entire Big Charity structure to determine the advisability of repairing or restructuring the entire facility. RMJM Hillier determined that “there are no fundamental flaws that would impede the rehabilitation of Charity Hospital into a state-of-the-art modern facility” and found the building to be structurally sound. Rehabilitation into a 21st-century, state-of-the-art facility would be the fastest, most cost-effective way to return quality health care and a teaching hospital to New Orleans.

Proposal for New Atrium in front of Charity Hospital by RMJM Hillier/FHL

The RMJM Hillier Feasibility Study incorporates the same health care delivery systems as those proposed in the LSU Strategic Master Plan, while providing a more integrated synergistic medical campus and superior connections to LSU Medical School, Tulane School of Medicine, the Delgado School of Nursing, the new BioInnovation Center, and the Cancer Consortium.

The 21st-century, state-of-the-art rehabilitation of the Charity Hospital building is a key element of the RMJM Hillier plan. By rebuilding Charity Hospital, the site of the Veterans Affairs Medical Complex can be moved closer to downtown and I-10, avoiding the unnecessary destruction of the denser 11 blocks of Lower Mid-City.

The positive impacts of this plan to the surrounding community include the revitalization of downtown New Orleans, preservation of historic neighborhoods, rebirth of the historic medical campus and the preservation of a cultural icon.

Adoption of this plan would avoid the use of eminent domain against homeowners and small business owners in the densest portion of the historic Lower Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans, whose property is targeted for expropriation and demolition by the proposed new hospitals. This revitalization plan makes both common and economic sense.

The RMJM Hillier plan offers an efficient, modern health care delivery system in much less time and for significantly less expense than what is proposed by the LSU Strategic Master Plan, resulting in less burden on the taxpayer and the State. Big Charity’s current vacant state allows for an easier upgrade to a modern state-of-the-art facility including a new main entrance lobby on Tulane Avenue, a Level One trauma center and new patient-centered environment. Implementing this plan will result in the faster return of a full teaching hospital to New Orleans and therefore a faster attraction of the best medical students, investment dollars, jobs, support businesses, research, and research dollars.

For More Information
You can download and read an executive summary of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana / RMJM Hillier Feasibility Study of Charity Hospital in New Orleans here:

You can view the LSU/VA proposals in greater depth here:

If you have any questions about the plans, feel free to Contact Us.

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