Health Care

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:

What A Reasonable Request!

Hope you didn't miss this Letter to the Editor from Sissy Sartor:


Re: "Revitalized Charity will be key to city's recovery, " Your Opinions,  Sept. 19. Kurt Weigle,  president of the Downtown Development District,  must live by the adage that if you repeat something often enough,  it becomes true.


   Here we are again,  two camps trading repetitions in loud voices. On the one side,  we have those saying that the only way to achieve a booming city and biomedical district is by bulldozing Mid-City and building a new hospital from scratch.

   On the other side,  we have those who say that both economic stimulus and resurrection of the historical biomedical district can be achieved by building a state-of-the-art hospital inside the shell of Charity,  quicker and at less cost.

   How is one to know the right way? The answer is simple.

   (1) Appoint a truly independent commission that will evaluate and report on both options.

   (2) Insist that the City Council hold truly public hearings before the citizens of this city.

   After all,  when Mr. Weigle,  LSU President Lombardi,  and Gov. Bobby move on to their next posts,  the citizens of New Orleans will be living with this forever.

   Sissy Sartor

   New Orleans


Now that's a totally reasonable request we all ought to get behind. Seventy-seven community groups and thousands of citizens all across New Orleans have been asking for independent analysis and public hearings to help mediate this issue for years. The reason we haven't had public hearings is because City Council and the City Planning Commission have refused to hold them even though they are required by the City Charter. In fact, New Orleans residents have sued the Mayor of New Orleans for authorizing the expropriation of Lower Mid-City homes outside the established legal processes. Yet, elected officials sit idle as the proposed LSU/VA project creaks along the margins of the law though a Renwick poll commissioned by Smart Growth Louisiana has shown that a whopping 83% of Orleans Parish voters want to see the required public hearings take place.

World-Renown Architecture Firm Makes The Case

In response to another platitude-laden letter by the Downtown Development District's Kurt Weigle about how moving the medical district out of downtown will somehow help downtown, Dr. George C. Skarmeas, the Principle Director of Preservation Architecture for RMJM penned a brilliant explanation of how the RMJM design can turn Charity Hospital into a world-class medical facility and reinvigorate the city's moribund downtown medical district.


Re: "New med center will be a boon for downtown, " Your Opinions, Sept. 16. Contrary to comments by Downtown Development District CEO Kurt Weigle, our in-depth review has demonstrated that Charity can be re-used to house a modern medical complex. With careful planning and design, it could be a state-of-the-art hospital at a lower cost, and with direct economic impact sooner than any other alternative. 

The Foundation for Historical Louisiana selected international architects RMJM in 2008 to evaluate whether Charity could be reused as a contemporary hospital, meeting the most current thinking and standards in health-care planning and design.

The RMJM design team, which has considerable experience worldwide in historic preservation and health-care design, conducted an extensive assessment of the existing building conditions.

Charity's design features elegant towers and a wide-floor-plan base. These floor plans conform to modern health care facility standards, providing a base to accommodate complex medical and surgical functions, which support the floors above.

The existing floor-to-floor height is ideal for operating rooms and diagnostic facilities and all elements comprising a modern facility. The building footprint also complies with sustainable design goals of adding daylight and views from all patient rooms.

The RMJM study resulted in a clear and compelling vision for the re-use of Charity, integrating the most stringent contemporary health-care design principles with sound preservation techniques and sustainable technology.

A renovated Charity will provide an optimal, patient-centered, hospital experience and reinforce existing teaching relationships and clinical partnerships.

Revitalizing Charity will be an important step in the city's redevelopment, reinforcing the value of sustainability -- not demolition and social displacement -- as a key component of future architectural development.

Dr. George C. Skarmeas

Principal Director

Preservation Architecture



For reasons that remain unknown, the Downtown Development District's Kurt Weigle has been a constant booster for a project that will create a suburban style hospital that isn't just located outside of downtown but is physically oriented away from it. Look at the designs here.

At the unveiling of the designs by state architects back on August 18th, Weigle who, again, purports to be a representative of the interests of downtown businesses, essentially argued that it didn't matter what the new hospital looked like.

The suburban style design of the proposed LSU medical center received a barrage of negative comments, not just by individuals and groups long opposed to demolishing Lower Mid-City instead of rebuilding inside the facade of historic Charity Hospital. Critics included a representative of the City Planning Commission and even Caitlin Cain of the Regional Planning Commission, a longtime proponent of the LSU/VA project – and Mr. Weigle's spouse.

Weigle dismissed any and all of these concerns, saying:

"Frankly, regardless of what physical form it takes, we think that we can greatly enhance the impact on downtown by creating a stronger pedestrian and transit connection to downtown. There's no question about that. I say that without qualification."

Yeesh. At least Mr. Weigle concedes that the proposed LSU/VA medical complex won't be downtown nor connected to it.


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The Five Dollar Jazz Fest

We here at are still recovering from Saturday night's amazing benefit concert at the Howlin' Wolf. Not only did we raise money to sustain our efforts, draw attention to the alternative plan to gut and rebuild Charity Hospital, and build on on our ongoing campaign for the public hearings required by law - we had a great time doing it.

We were honored to witness one of the greatest collections of musicians imaginable. An all-star cast of  New Orleans legends came out not just because they wanted to see each other, but because they recognize how important Charity Hospital is as a cultural institution and as a social safety net for fellow musicians.

If you weren't among the hundreds you came out Saturday night, you missed a rare opporunity to see Dr. John, Al Carnival Time Johnson, Art Neville, DJ Captain Charles, Raymond Weber, Tony Hall, Ian Neville, John Gros, June Yamagishi, Porgy Jones, Big Chief Lionel and the Black Feather Gang, Ernie K-Doe, and of course the Lowrider Band all occupying the same stage!

The only other time one might be able to assemble this kind of talent is Jazz Fest - there's a reason it costs hundreds of dollars for a brass pass.

The packed house and packed stage represent just the latest in a growing movement to halt the destructive, expensive, and time-consuming LSU/VA proposal so that we can move forward with a plan to rebuild Charity Hospital and open it.

If you didn't have a chance to give to support our on-going efforts, please take a moment to do so here.

Thanks so much for all the volunteers and supporters who made this possible. This couldn't have happened without the efforts of dozens of people across the city who dedicated their time and energy to making this a success.

If you took any great pictures of the concert, be sure to upload them to our Flickr page!

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Meeting Tomorrow: Join the Save Charity Hospital Street Team!

With this Saturday's concert just days away, we'll need all the volunteers we can get to ensure that everything runs smoothly. We already have a fantastic team, without which the sucess of the second line parade and protest would not have been possible, but we need to grow. All hands on deck!

The Save Charity Hospital Street Team is meeting to discuss our strategy and finalize preparations for the Benefit Concert. Get involved! Please join us at CC's at 2800 Esplanade in Mid-City tomorrow evening at 6PM.

First timers should show up at 6:00pm to get caught up on strategy.

Regulars should show up at 6:30pm when we'll start getting in the meat-and-potatoes of our work for the next week.

See you there!

What can the Charity Hospital Street Team accomplish? This...!

Spread the word! Get involved!

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Do you have your ticket yet?

There are only a few days left to guarantee yourself a ticket for this Saturday night's Save Charity Hospital benefit and bonanza.


Buy your tickets here!


Of course you can also buy tickets at the door, but why risk it?

This show represents the Lowrider Band's first show back in New Orleans since Katrina - there's no telling when you'll have another shot to see 'em here in their natural habitat.

The Lowrider Band's unofficial chief, drummer Harold Brown is in town already and has been spotted around the city with a copy of Dr. John Salvaggio's 1992 New Orleans' Charity Hospital, a 300 year history of the beloved institution, in tow.

Save The Date! Big Big Big Event September 19th!

All Charity Hospital babies and supporters are invited to join us at the Howlin' Wolf (907 S. Peters St.) on September 19th at 8PM for a huge benefit concert featuring the Low Rider Band, DJ Captain Charles, Tony Hall, Raymond Weber, John Gros, Ian Neville, and additional special guests.

September 19th, 2009 is a significant day and not just because we're throwing an awesome concert. It is the fourth anniversary of the shuttering of Charity Hospital without the legislative approval required by law. The decision to close Charity Hospital at that time remains a huge setback for our city. Contrary to the claims of state officials, Charity Hospital was not destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In fact, teams of doctors, nurses, and military personnel worked around the clock to scrub the hospital clean so that it was ready to receive patients on the day it was shut down.

Click here for photos of the hospital's condition on the day of its closure.

The concert on September 19th will not only help us sustain our grassroots and financial momentum, but will provide another opportunity to fill out more postcards to our City Council reiterating our long-standing requests: An independent side-by-side cost benefit analysis of the two competing hospital proposals, the official hearings before the City Planning Commission and City Council required by law, and the inclusion of an evaluation of the hospital proposals within the ongoing master planning process.



Read on for our press release with more details about the show.

Tell all your friends! It's the only place to be next Saturday in New Orleans!

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Carl Ginsburg on Charity Hospital, New Orleans, and the Obama Administration

When we get great letters and articles written about Charity Hospital, it means less blogging and more time to work on planning a great concert for the 19th of September (more details very soon).

Carl Ginsburg, one of the minds behind Air America Radio, wrote an editorial for CounterPunch over the weekend in which Charity Hospital figures very prominently in his examination of federal government recovery policy under President Obama compared to former President Bush. It might be a little confrontational in tone for some but Mr. Ginsburg is right about the injustices of the decision to keep Charity Hospital closed after it had been decontaminated after the flood and of the push to demolish Lower Mid-City without a serious evaluation of alternative plans.

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Letters pouring into Times-Picayune protesting destructive LSU/VA proposal

So many wonderful letters have made it into the local rags over the last few weeks that it's getting tough to keep up with them all. Letters like these make it a pleasure and a privilege to fight for Lower Mid-City, Charity Hospital, and the soul of New Orleans.

First up, the irreplaceable Phyllis Montana Leblanc, accidental star of Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke. We marched together, along with 1200 of our closest friends, last Monday.


Re: "Let's trade our clunker hospital, " Your Opinions, Sept. 3. A clunker is something that does not work, which is in contrast to Charity Hospital. Many reports say it would cost less to repair the damage to Charity than to build an entire "cutting edge" facility.

Sentimental reasons play a part in my love for Charity Hospital, but more importantly it is needed, and I am sick and tired of having to march, sweat and fight against the opportunists raping this city of its historical and needed facilities.

I was born in Charity Hospital and so were all of my sisters and my brother. Both my mom and dad worked, and we were not looking for handouts, as people seem to think of those who go to facilities helping the uninsured and needy.

I marched as a protester in the Save Charity Hospital Second Line and was damned proud to do so. Not only did Charity Hospital serve this city, but people from around the state of Louisiana came there for medical attention. I know, because I spoke with them while waiting to be seen.

Since Hurricane Katrina passed its first year anniversary, some folks have gone back to their "I'm better than you" and "Mine, mine, mine" behaviors. Before that -- when we were all in the same boat -- it was "Everybody counts."

Instead of "Let's trade our clunker hospital, " let's trade our insensitive, opportunistic and downright uncaring attitudes towards the residents in need in New Orleans.

Charity Hospital has been needed since 2005. I see millions and millions of "recovery dollars" going everywhere but to help the people who really need it.

Why are some people having to fight for every single thing that they need to survive in New Orleans post-Katrina?


Then there's Robert Tannen, one of the more authoritative urban planners in the New Orleans today. He wrote into the Times-Picayune with a great letter about how the LSU/VA plan dishonors the city's urban integrity.


Re: "We're counting on you, Mr. President, " Page 1, Aug. 28. New Orleans has built its international reputation on the restoration of its heritage, culture, and neighborhoods. Yet the front-page editorial and other articles in The Times-Picayune Friday suggest new construction trumps restoration of the city and culture in desperate need of restoration.


Historic neighborhoods, public schools, historic Charity Hospital and other hospitals, historic public libraries and cultural facilities and programs are at the core of our economy. Yet we have spent the last four years continuing the demolition by intent and neglect inspired by Katrina, our muse of destruction.

No one would argue that we do not need new construction. But citizens have made their preferences clear at numerous meetings in every neighborhood of the city over four years, setting records for community engagement in planning as well as executing plans.

Over 50 neighborhood organizations protested the plan to move a downtown medical district into historic neighborhoods, leaving a sturdy, adaptable, landmark building in the middle of a black hole bordering our Central Business District.

Federal officials may be confused by the disconnect between our public officials and constituents. Therefore we ask President Obama to make sure federal policy decisions are vetted not only with officials, but also with our citizens.

They must explore alternatives to a destructive process that began before Katrina. Federal funding should honor the integrity of this unique city.


"It's not about getting health care to the people of New Orleans. It's about money and power."

If you didn't catch the Sunday paper on your way to the Black Men of Labor Second Line, you missed out big time.

Tom Piazza, writer of Why New Orleans Matters, City of Refuge, and currently working on the upcoming HBO series, Treme, wrote this absolutely scathing Sunday editorial for the Times-Picayune.


My house was finally broken into, after 15 years of waiting for it to happen. It used to happen to other people. Now it has happened to me. Luckily, I own more or less nothing of any value to a thief, except for a handful of small items, which they took. They also managed to ransack the place pretty well. "Trashed" would be the word. The break-in happened the day before the Katrina anniversary. On the same day, I heard that our governor signed an agreement that would allow marshals and bulldozers to come in and seize hundreds of people's homes in lower Mid-City to make room for a hospital complex that could easily be built on a different site.

Yes, I am upset that a thief broke in. But nobody is coming to take a house that I rebuilt with four years of hard labor after the levee failures. The city that I fought to come back to has not decided to summarily wipe away all my hard work and faith. That is happening to other people.

Four years after Katrina, New Orleans is at a crossroads -- not just a logistical crossroads, but a moral one, and one might as well say a spiritual one. We are all rightly concerned about crime -- violent crime, like the kind that took Dinerral Shavers and Helen Hill, and nonviolent crime like the house break-ins that might now fairly be called an epidemic.

But there is a different kind of crime about to happen in our city, and in some ways it is more ominous because it travels under the cloak of the law. With a stroke of a pen, an elected official, serving the interests of a cadre of greedy and selfish developers, has just wiped away the hopes, the work and the dreams not just of a single victim, but of hundreds of hardworking people who trusted and loved this city and worked to rebuild it.

Would I like to get my hands on the thief who broke into my house? Yes. But he (she?) probably lives a wretched existence, sneaking around and stealing. Probably not being very highly rewarded for it either.

The people who will profit from the rape of Mid-City are already well-off. They sit on the boards of LSU and Tulane; they stroll the halls of the state Capitol, City Hall and the Governor's Mansion. They won't hear the sound of the house they rebuilt being crushed by bulldozers. It will happen to other people.

Charity Hospital sits empty. Much of downtown, for that matter, sits empty. Instead of spreading out into Mid-City, the badly needed medical facilities could be built much more quickly, much less expensively, and much more humanely, by updating and using Charity and the surrounding medical district. It would give downtown a badly needed revitalizing mechanism, and it would save people's homes, and it would get medical care to the city more quickly.

Why isn't it being done? Because a handful of greedy bastards want a shiny monument to their own power and ego. It's not about getting health care to the people of New Orleans. It's about money and power. If you live somewhere else in the city, as I do, you can tell yourself that it's happening to other people. But if we learned one thing from Katrina, it is that we are part of an integrated social and geographical and spiritual ecosystem. We can turn our heads as long as it is going on somewhere else and happening to someone else. Or we can get mad now, and make a stand for human dignity and fairness against greed and power lust.

In his song about the bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd, written 70 years ago, the singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie sang,

"As through this world I've wandered, I've met lots of funny men.

Some will rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen."

He could turn a phrase, that Woody Guthrie. He ended the song thusly:

"But as through this world you travel, and as through this world you roam,

You will never see an outlaw drive a family from their home."

A crime doesn't stop being a crime just because the law is on its side. And Judas Iscariot was paid handsomely by the law for his services. There's still time, but not much, to rescue the soul of this city before the bulldozers crank up.


Maybe the saddest part of this whole ordeal is that after all the organizing citizens did in 2006 to  ensure the rights of their neighborhoods to rebuild, Lower Mid-City might be the first community in New Orleans denied that right because, as Mr. Piazza put it, "a handful of greedy bastards want a shiny monument to their own power and ego."

Of course this isn't the first time Tom Piazza has considered the monument-in-lieu-of-accomplishment theory for New Orleans politicians.



More Letters Raise Concerns Over LSU/VA Proposal

Yet another set of brilliantly written letters to the editor made it into the Times-Picayune, following those we reported earlier in the week.

This one, by Civil Rights attorney Mary Howell, takes city and state leadership to task for engaging in secretive processes and wasteful planning practices.


In The Times-Picayune's Sunday editorial, you stated that you expect President Obama to keep his promise to build new hospitals "including a new medical center downtown." 

If indeed the new hospital were to be built downtown, many of the objections raised by residents, homeowners, business owners, health care advocates, city planners, preservationists and good government activists, would be resolved. Instead, the state has abandoned downtown New Orleans as LSU has bullied and pushed to build the new hospital in the lower Mid-City neighborhood.

Your editorial left out the connection between the president's promise and what he expects of us in return, as The Times-Picayune reported Aug. 23: "I also think the rest of the country is going to be insistent at a time of great fiscal challenge that money in the Gulf region is spent wisely, that local officials are coordinating effectively, that there is transparency and accountability to these processes, that there is a minimum of politics involved in decision making."

This seems to be a pretty tall order for the medical center process, which has reeked of politics from its inception, where citizens have been denied public hearings before the City Council and the City Planning Commission and where there is absolutely no confidence that money is being spent either wisely or well.

Perhaps while you all are busy urging the president to keep his promise, you should also acknowledge that our city and state leadership has failed miserably in living up to our end of the deal.


The next letter, by Melanie Ehrlich, the founder of the indispensible Citizen's Road Home Action Team, points out the blatant double-standard involving the Louisiana Recovery Authority's approach toward large commercial and institutional projects compared to the homes of average citizens.


There is a double standard in the thinking of the Louisiana Recovery Authority -- one standard for homeowner disaster victims and another for state, organizational, and commercial interests in a major building project. 

In the article about LRA's dispute over hurricane-flood damage to the 20-story Charity Hospital, the claim is that the structure, which sustained flood water in the basement and about 3 feet of water on the first floor, is more than 50 percent damaged. In that case, funding from FEMA for replacement, not just repair, is justified.

However, in LRA's oversight and rule-setting for the Road Home Program, homeowners in two-story or camel-back homes are routinely told that they do not have more than 50 percent damage even if flood waters reached 8 to 12 feet in their homes.

Equally discordant is LRA's assertion that its appeal of FEMA's damage assessment should be considered by an independent panel unaffiliated with FEMA.

Road Home applicants' disputes or appeals are decided by the contractor for the program or one of its subcontractors.

Secondary and final appeals are decided by the state review panel, including members of LRA and other state agencies with Road Home oversight.

So, LRA invokes independent appeals in its quest for FEMA money for replacing storm-damaged Charity Hospital. But Road Home applicants cannot get an independent appeal in their attempt to rebuild their storm-devastated homes.

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