Filings say LSU squeezing FEMA for hospital money

NEW ORLEANS — LSU’s $491.8 million claim for federal replacement costs of Charity Hospital is “without merit” and should be rejected, a team of activist lawyers told FEMA in a filing late Thursday.

LSU ignored state law by closing the hospital and appealing to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on March 11, the administrative filing states. It also alleges post-Hurricane Katrina expert damage reports are “improperly tainted by conflicts of interest.”

“Contrary to LSU’s assertions, the cause of Charity Hospital’s continued closure was not Hurricane Katrina,” according to the 28-page “intervention” on behalf of the medically uninsured residents of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. “The driving force behind continued closure has been the aggressive attempt by LSU officials to utilize the repairable damage from Katrina as part of a strategy to build an entirely new medical complex … funded in large part by FEMA.”

Monique Harden, one of several lawyers signing the filing, said Friday “unsworn statements” in LSU’s appeal are contradicted by court-authenticated photos and sworn testimony.

“(The appeal) warrants the concern of all people in this region who are affected by … the outrageous way that LSU is trying to squeeze money out of FEMA,” Harden said.

The filing was provided to LSU officials, the Governor’s Office, the Louisiana Recovery Authority, and companies evaluating Charity for the state, including Blitch Knevel Architects of New Orleans, RS Means Business Solutions of Atlanta and Adams Management Services Corporation. The firms either declined comment, were unavailable or referred questions to state officials. 

 Charles Zewe, LSU vice president for communications and external affairs, said, “LSU will have no comment on this purported action until it has been reviewed by legal counsel.”

Angele Davis, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s commissioner of administration, issued a statement questioning the relevancy of some allegations and whether the intervening attorneys have “any standing” in the FEMA process.

“The state strongly stands by its appeal and the accuracy and integrity of the three independent analyses and estimates of damages and repair costs,” Davis said.

The new filing includes “intervenors” in a proposed class action that is pending in New Orleans on behalf of medically uninsured residents. It also:

• Contradicts claims Charity was too damaged to reopen.

“It was clean, decontaminated and the power was on well before September 30th,” Dr. James Moises, an emergency room physician said.

Davis disagreed: “All of the building systems originating in the basement were gone.”

• Alleges LSU “disregarded” state law by appealing FEMA’s $150 million offer without approval from the Medical Center of Louisiana, which governs both Charity and University Hospital. Also, the closing circumvented required approval by the Legislature.

• States that Adams Management (hired by LSU) declared in 2005 that nearby University Hospital “suffered greater damage than Charity and could no longer function as an inpatient facility.”

However, “only one year after that analysis, University Hospital was reopened …”

• Alleges that ADAMS and architect Blitch Knevel have “conflicts of interest” because of work for LSU and their “pecuniary interest” in the development of a proposed LSU teaching hospital. In 2003, Walter R. Adams, then head of ADAMS, urged a new hospital.

Mary Jo Watters, assistant to ADAMS president Steve Irmscher, said Friday that Walter Adams is no longer with the firm. Irmscher declined comment.

• Recommends FEMA conduct an ivestigation of LSU’s damage claims and hold a public hearing on the best use of disaster funds for the hospital.


"Filings say LSU squeezing FEMA for hospital money"
by Allen M. Johnson Jr.
The Advocate – Apr 18, 2009  Page: 15A