Times-Picayune: "Jindal tells New Orleans City Council he still backs hospital"

Gov. Bobby Jindal gave private assurances to New Orleans City Council members that he still backs the proposal to build a $1.2 billion state teaching hospital in lower Mid-City, despite a growing collection of individuals and organizations asking both the council and the governor to reassess the plans.

"The governor's position has not changed," said state Health Secretary Alan Levine who also attended the meeting with at-large Council members Jackie Clarkson, Arnie Fielkow and District B Councilwoman Stacy Head. "Our focus has to continue to be on developing America's newest and best research and teaching hospital."

Separately, Levine and Fielkow confirmed that city leaders voiced opposition to Jindal's proposal to close New Orleans Adolescent Hospital, an Uptown facility that provides outpatient and inpatient mental health services to minors and adults.

"In some areas, we have a respectable disagreement," Levine said, maintaining that the closing will not reduce services because they will be relocated.

Fielkow requested the meeting amid public protest of Jindal's NOAH proposal and as state and federal contractors continue designing adjacent hospitals slated for about 70 acres bound by Tulane Avenue, South Rocheblave Street, Canal Street and South Claiborne Avenue. The footprint, which comprises the tip of the Mid-City Historic District, falls in Head's council district.

Fielkow, who previously has supported the Mid-City site, declined to say Wednesday whether council members and the governor talked about the wrangling over the hospital site and plans.

"I'm just going to say we had a very good discussion," Fielkow said. "We all have a vested interest in improving our health-care delivery system in the city."

Head, also an early supporter of building new, adjacent hospitals, declined to comment. Last month, she called for the City Planning Commissions to hold hearings, even if the city cannot legally derail the projects because of state and federal supremacy.

A spokeswoman for Clarkson did not respond to an inquiry about the meeting. Clarkson was not on the council when it first backed Mayor Ray Nagin in his decision to use New Orleans' federal block grants to acquire land for the Veterans Affairs hospital.

Levine said the council members sought only updates on the hospital plans. They did not request any specific action from Jindal, the secretary said.

"There are many moving parts to this," Levine said, pointing to the state's long-running dispute with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over how much money it is due for Charity Hospital's hurricane damage. The state's $492 million request is more than a third of the new hospital capital budget.

Jindal aides did not make the governor available for comment.

A coalition of almost 50 organizations -- from neighborhood associations to the American Planning Association -- has called on Jindal to commission a new analysis of whether the state could use the existing Charity Hospital structure, shuttered since Hurricane Katrina, as the shell of a new hospital.

That alternative was rejected as part of the joint planning process involving the federal, state and city governments. But multiple groups have criticized those procedures as giving interested parties, including residents and the city's master plan participants, no real say in where the hospitals go or what they look like.

Fielkow said Wednesday that he wants an inclusive process, which he described as "well-organized" and "allowing all sides to be heard." Asked whether it is too late to revisit site selection or challenge the design concepts, he said, "That's a decision at the state level."

Original Article: "Jindal tells New Orleans City Council he still backs hospital"
by Bill Barrow, The Times-Picayune
Thursday April 09, 2009