A few weeks ago, Freshman Congressman Joseph Cao had an opportunity to speak with President Barack Obama face-to-face at a White House reception. In Congressman Cao's first opportunity to reconnect with the President on behalf of his district, he chose to focus on an inaccurate and misleading push for the controversial LSU/VA complex instead of a more consensus-based issue. The Times-Picayune, however, wrote a contemporaneous account of the reception, describing Cao as having "seized the opportunity."
Cao provided this comment to the Times-Picayune's Jonathan Tilove:
"I talked to him about the recovery of New Orleans and how I hope to be able to work with him to speed up that recovery process," Cao said. "I personally handed him a letter in which I requested the $490 million for Charity Hospital."
Tilove also asked congressional scholar Norman Orstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute for his interpretation of Cao's moves at the reception, which was attended mostly by Democrats.
No one would benefit more from that than Cao, said Ornstein, who said his presence at the White House might help mitigate the damage done back home by his vote against Obama's stimulus package.
Indeed, Cao may have inflicted some political damage to himself not just because he voted against the President's stimulus bill, but because he failed to take a personal call from the President as the vote approached because the phone lines to his office were "flooded" with other calls.
The Times-Picayune editorial board wrote in praise of Cao's efforts at the White House, penning a piece lauding the Congressman for "making the most" of his visit with the President.
Yet we here at SaveCharityHospital.com thought it was very peculiar that Congressman Cao's recent attempt to reconnect with the President centered on an inaccurate and misleading description of the controversial LSU/VA complex instead of a more consensus-based issue.
In his letter to the President, Cao wrote:
"Charity Hospital was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina..."
SaveCharityHospital.com has obtained the full text of the Congressman's letter to the President to ensure that we understood the full context of that particular line. In fact, Cao's assertion that Charity was "completely destroyed" represents the centerpiece for the flawed argument that the structure had been damaged beyond the 51% threshold required for FEMA to grant full replacement dollars.
The body of evidence contrary to Cao's claim about the condition of Charity Hospital at the time it was closed by LSU administrators is compelling.
While Charity sustained serious damages due to Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failure, only the basement took on flood waters. Within weeks of the storm, teams of doctors and guardsmen had pumped the building dry, decontaminated the first three floors, and readied the hospital to provide care to returning residents.
These photographs, obtained by SaveCharityHospital.com, indicate that Charity Hospital was in reasonable shape following the work of response teams just weeks after flood waters receeded in late September, 2005. Others from February, 2006 confirm those conditions.
The photographs lend credibility to the testimony of Dr. James Moises, an ER doctor at Charity Hospital and clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine for LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans at the time of the storm. Dr. Moises' accounts are a central in the pending LeBlanc lawsuit. The case challenges the very legality of the decision to close the hospital's doors in 2005 without the approval of the State Legislature, as required under the law.
Dr. Moises helped lead the effort to decontaminate the hospital and relayed his story in a sworn affidavit:
It took ten days to pump all the water out of the basement, while most of the workers, including me, were cleaning and decontaminating the first three floors, removing biodegradables from the first 14 floors, boarding windows and weatherproofing the building in a preliminary way. Specifically I recollect that the Navy Seabees boarded up every broken window in the building.
The cleanup was essentially complete by September 21. I observed at that time that the first three floors were spotless. Electric power had been restored, and the air conditioning was functioning...
Retired Lieutenant General Russel Honoré ordered some of his troops from the 82nd Airborne division to assist in those cleanup efforts. Honoré has been outspoken about this and has written previously that the storm was "used as an opportunity to close the doors of Charity Hospital," a pretext or justification not based on the actual condition of the building. Just last week, Honoré went on the record again, excoriating LSU for continuing to base it's FEMA appeal on the false claim that Charity was beyond repair, "LSU needs to pay for its own damn hospital."
Staff Seargent James A. Johnson is a 20-year veteran of the United States Army in the 205th Engineering Battalion. A specialist in electric power systems and the restoration of electricity in disaster situations, Johnson served three tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan before being called in to restore order to New Orleans in 2005. Johnson has received military awards for his service here.
He has also given a sworn affidavit about his work to reopen Charity Hospital.
Between September 7 and September 19, 2005, I personally witnessed and participated in the complete restoration of the first and second and parts of the third floor of Charity Hospital.
The 82d Airborne worked around the clock, in shifts, to clean Charity Hospital and make it ready to reopen. Almost immediately, over a three-day period, they pumped all the water out of the basement... The 82d then sent in their decontamination teams to clean up and test, to determine if the basement and first three floors were decontaminated. The team did this over several days, and on September 19 declared the tested floors ready for human habitation. It was at this time I and others got word that LSU wanted us out of the building in order to shut the building down.
Thus, not only was the building not "completely destroyed" by Hurricane Katrina, but it was almost ready for business just three weeks later. It was LSU's decision to close the hospital.
There, it appears Congressman Cao's assertion that Charity Hospital "was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina" is patently untrue. The photographic evidence and the first-hand experiences of Dr. Moises, Lt. General Honoré, Sgt. Johnson, and others combines to form an impressive body of evidence.
It may be that the Congressman did not take the necessary time to familiarize himself with the facts before he hand-delivered his letter to the President.