New Orleans is in the midst of a troubling public health crisis. Charity Hospital has historically served New Orleans' most vulnerable citizens and its continued closure further jeopardizes the city's uninsured population, stretches limited government services to the their breaking point, and puts unnecessary strain on the region's private hospitals and care providers. The current LSU/VA plan condemns the residents of New Orleans to years of inadequate medical resources while their proposed facility is built. Since Charity Hospital can be renovated at least four and a half years faster than the LSU/VA proposal for a new medical complex, the work of attracting top flight medical personnel to provide critical public health services can begin sooner by rebuilding Charity.
Below you will find a collection of articles pertaining to the preservation issue:
Last week, we wrote about recent public comments by Lt. General Russel Honoré, former Governor Kathleen Blanco, and others about the circumstances surrounding the original decision to close Charity Hospital after it had been decontaminated for the purpose of treating patients. There has been a long-standing effort by state and LSU officials to mislead the public and FEMA about the extent to which Charity was damaged by Katrina's winds and the federal levee floods.
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.”
(AP) — NEW ORLEANS - Weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans and worsened the medical plight of the city's poor, then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the publicly run Charity Hospital would not reopen, even though the military had scrubbed the building to medical-ready standards, the retired Army general who oversaw the work said.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Lt. Gen. Russel Honore said Blanco told him in late September 2005 the 20-story building that served the region's poor residents would not reopen.
"'Ma'am, we got the hospital clean, my people report ... if you want to use it,'" Honore recalled telling Blanco. "Her reply to me: 'Well general, we're not going to open it, we're working on a different plan.'"
Honore's revelation raises questions of whether state officials used Katrina as an excuse to leverage federal financing for a new public hospital.
It comes as state and federal officials continue squabbling over how badly the hospital was really damaged and how much federal recovery funding should be allocated to it.
The state wants $492 million for a new hospital to replace the Depression-era building as part of a proposed $1.2 billion medical complex. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has offered $150 million for repairs. The dispute is on appeal at FEMA headquarters.
Blanco said she could not remember the conversation with Honore. She said she didn't know the military had scrubbed Charity until she was contacted by the AP.
But she said Honore's comments struck her as out of context. "I would not have made that statement because I would not have the first idea of having other plans for Charity at that moment," Blanco said.
Honore suggested that money, not medical judgment, was at the heart of the decision.
"This is about business, man," Honore said. "This is about rich people making more money. This is not about providing health care."
Keith Twitchell, president of the good-government Committee for a Better New Orleans/Metropolitan Area Committee, said "anything he (Honore) says must be given credence," but it seemed improbable that state officials hatched long-term plans so quickly.
"Two, three weeks after Katrina, it's hard to imagine anyone at the state level was thinking, 'Oh, boy, this is our chance to shut down Charity,'" Twitchell said.
Charity's closing forced needy residents to turn to the few overcrowded, private hospitals still operating, which financially stressed them.
FEMA also spent more than $90 million to open temporary facilities, including a hospital in a shopping mall.
In documents filed with FEMA, the state said a damage assessment was done at Charity within the first two weeks after Katrina. Citing floodwater in the basement, wind damage to the roof, widespread mold and human and medical waste, they claimed the hospital was destroyed.
Blanco said she was told Charity was contaminated because the air conditioning and heating systems flooded and "affected the core operations of the entire building."
She said she relied on the advice of Jerry Jones, director of State Facility Planning and Control, an office that oversees public buildings. Jones did not return repeated telephone calls seeking comment.
When the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in the ravaged city in early September 2005, Charity was identified as key. It was in the center of town and provided a lot of people care, said the division's commander, Gen. William Caldwell.
About 150 soldiers and a team of medical professionals worked to get the hospital running, Caldwell said.
Meanwhile, a German military team's pumps sucked water out of the basement. Air sampling found no contamination-a concern, considering the flooding and bodies in the flooded morgue, Caldwell said.
Caldwell recalled telling Honore the hospital was nearly ready to receive patients. "We were actually thinking of having a ribbon-cutting ceremony, give a thumbs up and turn it over to the health care professionals," Caldwell said.
But then, Caldwell said a decision came to stop the cleanup.
Dr. James Moises, a former Charity emergency room doctor who helped clean the hospital after Katrina, said Charity was made useable, and the medical staff was eager to see it back in use.
Moises said state officials used Katrina as an excuse to close Charity and ask FEMA for the money to build a new medical complex. Moises said: "It was their orchestrated plan. It was, 'How can we manipulate the disaster for institutional gains?'"
In what could prove to be a tide-turning series of articles, reporters have begun to confront elected and appointed officials about the original decision to shut down Charity Hospital in late September of 2005. After a teams of doctors, nurses, and military personnel worked around the clock to decontaminate the first three floors of the building and announced it was ready to receive patients, the decision to close Charity has left the city of New Orleans without needed health services for nearly four years.
The slow retreat of many public officials' support for the increasingly tenuous LSU/VA proposal has morphed into a full-fledged blame game this week.
Petition filed for Thurman vs. Nagin, on July 14th, 2009. Lawsuit was filed in Civil District Court that argues that Mayor C. Ray Nagin repeatedly violated the New Orleans City Charter in authorizing the seizure of private property and the closure of public streets for the proposed Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Lt. General Russel Honoré – commander of Joint Task Force Katrina – says Charity Hospital "could have been reopened" in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In a recent interview with WWL's Dennis Woltering, Lt. General Honoré questioned state and local officials' decision to keep Charity closed after it was partially decontaminated three weeks after Hurricane Katrina.
His response supports the accounts of Dr. James Moises, Sgt. John Johnson, and others who helped clean the building during the chaotic aftermath of the storm.
The most recent issue of New Orleans Magazine just hit the newsstands. It features an absolutely brilliant article written by Dr. Brobson Lutz, M.D. about the local implications of the H1N1 virus and Louisiana's past history addressing outbreaks. H1N1, or swine flu, has already made its way to our state. Notably, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was quarantined in China to quell a possible exposure to the virus.
Our favorite part of the article, titled Influenza in Louisiana, was the final powerful paragraph:
During past epidemics from yellow fever to AIDS, Charity Hospital was there for us. If influenza pandemic brings this country to its knees this fall, New Orleans will need a quickly expandable source of hospital beds, antibiotics, and ventilators to treat serious complications. Woe be the feckless Louisiana State University medical school leadership who shuttered Charity in 2005 in hopes of garnering a FEMA powerball payout that never came.
Unfortunately it isn't just the possibility of future influenza outbreaks that highlights the cost of Charity Hospital's absence. Rather, not having Charity these last few years has badly hurt our local capacity for treating any number of major and minor emergency and long-term maladies.
Voices of San Diego has an interesting piece about the failure of Metabasis Therapeutics, a San Diego biotech firm that serves as a cautionary tale for New Orleans and its bid to bolster a bioscience corridor:
They didn't, however, expect CEO Mark Erion to walk into the room and announce that the company was all but broke, and nearly everyone -- 45 out of the company's 52 employees -- was being laid off. Nor did they expect Erion to tell them that they weren't getting any severance pay, or even their unused vacation pay, and that if they didn't hurry to the bank to cash their final paycheck, it would probably bounce.
The events over the next hours and days at Metabasis, as recounted by former employees, were bizarre, even for the world of biotech, where companies big and small can be one failed drug away from oblivion. In the conference room that Tuesday morning, human resources people hurriedly handed out folders with last paychecks to employees who immediately headed to nearby Bank of America branches, the only bank that Erion told them would take the checks.
"We were thrown out into a bank run," said one manager who was laid off. "It was a crazy scene, like the 1929 stock market crash. It was an amazing debacle."
The past year has been a bloodbath for San Diego's biotech cluster, which, depending on the day, includes about 700 companies. Since last June, local life sciences companies have laid off more than 3,000 people, according to the website Xconomy. Bud Leedom, a local stock analyst who focuses on California companies, said that while the events described by the former Metabasis employees are shocking, abrupt layoffs and company closures will become more commonplace given the barren funding environment that is likely to last for years.
"Management has been somewhat jaded over the last 20 years, confident that when push comes to shove something will happen," Leedom said. "That thought process is colliding with an unprecedented situation in the market -- it's not hard to raise money, its virtually impossible for some companies." Other industry watchers agree with Leedom that this is one of the most difficult periods in the history of biotech.
Remember that San Diego purportedly has one of the more robust bioscience clusters in the country. A recent New York Times article profiled the massive competition between cities for bioscience startups that have shown little track record for success.
SaveCharityHospital.com has been sympathetic toward the rationales for attracting a new bioscience industry to New Orleans. We have argued vehemently against the notion that the proposed LSU/VA is any more attractive as an anchor to such an industry than a new state-of-the-art facility in the world-renowned Charity Hospital.
It now appears increasingly appropriate to question whether the recent actions by LSU, and their inability to create a functional governance or financing plan, threatens New Orleans' chances of attracting a bioscience industry. Given the economy in general, the state of the bioscience industry around the country, and the apparently long odds cities have faced in attracting prosperous biotech companies even during better times, we need to ensure that the new hospital that ends up being built in New Orleans supports these wider goals.
Because New Orleans has had a pretty robust medical district historically, we believe it's worthwhile to put a little bit of seed money into attracting related businesses.
We don't, however, see any compelling reason why we should destroy a residential neighborhood, mortgage healthcare while we beg for LSU to get its act together, or close our eyes to the possible criminality involved in shuttering the hospital in the first place when there might be faster and less expensive options for bolstering healthcare to New Orleans residents and restoring jobs to our medical district.
Congressman Joseph Cao (R- New Orleans) has, until recently, been one of the more vocal public figures pushing for the proposed LSU/VA project and against the examination of potentially more viable alternatives that might incorporate Charity Hospital.
Notably, Rep. Cao personally delivered a letter to President Obama which pushed the demonstrable falsehood that Charity "was completed destroyed by Hurricane Katrina." Soon after, he organized a special panel at Charity Hospital in which a tour of the building and forum on the dispute was scrapped for a less specific discussion about FEMA in general.
Last week, Rep. Cao went even further toward reversing his earlier position. At a community health fair, Cao spoke to Amber Sandoval-Griffin, of the Times-Picayune:
"These are issues that we are concerned about -- the lack of health care in the city and the lack of accurate adequate infrastructure, " Cao said. "In respect to Charity, my main focus is to get the necessary funding, the $492 million that the state contends FEMA owes the state, to either rebuild the old Charity or to build a new state-of-the-art hospital."
That's an important step for the Congressman, though he misleadingly sets up the dichotomy as being between an "old Charity" and a new hospital when in fact both competing proposals would result in a brand-new state-of-the-art facility. One step at a time, of course.