Official: Experts advised La. on hospital
By Marsha Shuler
Advocate Capitol News Bureau
Published: July 17, 2009 - Page 1A
LSU System health-care chief Fred Cerise said Thursday the state relied on recommendations from building experts to make the decision to keep Charity Hospital in New Orleans shut after Hurricane Katrina.
Cerise disputed claims by the retired Army general who led recovery efforts that were reported earlier this week.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. General Russel Honoré said the cleaned-up hospital could have reopened for business in late September 2005, a month after the storm hit.
Building experts advised to the contrary, Cerise told the LSU Board of Supervisors.
Honoré said recently then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco told him a month after the hurricane hit that the hospital would never be reopened.
His remark added to speculation that state officials used the hurricane as an excuse to shutter the Depression-era facility and get federal money to help build a replacement.
Blanco has said she did not recall such a conversation with Honoré. She said she never would have made the statement because she did not know what the plans were for Charity Hospital at the time.
Cerise’s comments came during a meeting of the LSU Board of Supervisors.
Cerise responded to a question from LSU Board member Tony Falterman, who asked, “Why so many years after the fact, he (Honoré) would come forward with this information?”
“With so much controversy going on around the hospital, who knows what the genesis of his last round of remarks are,” Cerise replied. “It’s four years later.”
Historic preservationists and some area residents contend Charity Hospital should be renovated and reopened as a hospital by LSU.
They are challenging state plans to build a proposed $1.2 billion medical complex on other property which would be part of a development with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Cerise said Blanco called him about Honoré’s claim.
Blanco could not recall any such comments and asked if he did, Cerise said.
“I told her I certainly was not involved in those decisions at that time,” said Cerise, a physician who was Blanco’s health secretary at the time.
“There was no doubt there was a first-floor cleanup, but there are a lot of other factors that enter in,” said Cerise, of Honoré’s clean-up claims.
In other words, Falterman said, “It’s not as simple as clean up the first floor.”
“That’s correct,” Cerise said.
Cerise said the administration was relying on advice from the state Office of Facility Planning and Control run by Jerry Jones.
Jones ruled against the reopening of Charity Hospital, he said.
LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans chief Larry Hollier said architectural and engineering consultants gave their professional opinions on whether Charity Hospital should be reopened.
“It was not a viable alternative to put it back as a hospital. The first floor was clean, but that doesn’t take care of the mold in the air and other environmental problems,” Hollier said.
Dr. Jack Andonie, chairman of the LSU board’s health committee, said the building is “nothing but a total disaster. There’s asbestos in the walls.”
“What people don’t understand it’s OK to open an emergency room and you have an emergency room, but where do you take patients for surgery, ICU? Where do you do the acute care?” asked Andonie. “They have to have the back up.”
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