WWLTV: Cao wants reconsideration of Charity Hospital request

NEW ORLEANS - Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake in the rebuilding of Charity Hospital and in the latest battle over federal money, the state has seen setback.

FEMA denied the state's latest appeal to pay more than $490 million to build a new hospital. On Wednesday, in a Homeland Security committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Congressman Cao expressed frustration about the lack of answers about Charity's funding future.

"I think it will put the residents of New Orleans in dire straits," said Rep. Joseph Cao, R-Louisiana. "Often times, some of those people who were involved in the first denial are deciding the appeal applications. I believe that system they have right now, lacks the objectivity that we desperately need in any appeal process."

It is a point that Cao made to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. During the hearing, Napolitano said she sympathized with New Orleans, but had concerns.

"We have a responsibility as well," Napolitano said. "These are taxpayer dollars. We're not just giving an unending pocket here, to make sure they go to qualified projects that need to be compensated. And there are some legitimate differences of opinion."

One of differences, outlined in the letter, is that the state did little to protect Charity Hospital, in the days surrounding Hurricane Katrina. It is a charge, state officials said, that is not true.

"No one's shown me proof of negligence as of yet, so I'm going with the studies and the engineers and the technical reports that have been done," said Louisiana Recovery Authority director Paul Rainwater. 

The state can file a second appeal beyond the regional office, all the way to Washington D.C., or officials could go before a newly-created arbitration panel.

"That system, I believe, will provide a more objective determination," Cao said.

"I think Katrina is so unusual in scope and the like, that the arbitration add-on and augmentation is going to be very helpful, not only to resolve things quickly but also give people a sense that they really had their shot," Napolitano said.

Speaking during the hearing, Secretary Napolitano would not give a timeline for when an arbitration panel would be set up to hear the Charity appeal.

Original Article: "Cao wants reconsideration of Charity Hospital request"
by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
Wednesday, May 13, 2009