The creation of a new medical complex will be the largest economic development project in the city's history, yet decisions are being made behind closed doors, without transparency, and without citizen involvement. No public hearings have been held by the City Planning Commission or the City Council on the $1.2 billion project, because no evaluation of alternative proposals for the medical complex have taken plan by the Planning Commission staff. The decision to shutter Charity Hospital in the first place remains shrouded in mystery and controversy. When municipal, state, and federal agencies entered into cooperative endeavor agreements and binding memorandums of understanding to acquire individually-owned lands in Lower Mid-City, the decisions were made behind closed doors without any basic disclosure to the affected public, let alone the opportunity for input. Similarly, the impetus for the creation of the Greater New Orleans Biomedical Development District (GNOBEDD) to provide special tax status for an even wider area including almost all of Mid City remains unknown. Because the city is an active participant in the LSU/VA decision, citizens are increasingly disenchanted with the planning process. New Orleans City Council members have done nothing to lead on this issue and ensure that their constituents are heard. Citizens of New Orleans ask why they should remain involved in the planning process to produce the Master Plan to guide the city into the future when the hired planners have been told not to include the medical district in plan. It is becoming clear to many citizens that the most significant economic/health decision facing New Orleans is being made behind closed doors.
Below you will find a collection of articles pertaining to the government transparency issue:
Pages 355-359 of the 1168-page Commission on Streamlining Government recommendations. Recommendation 81 calls for an independent study of hospital alternatives (p. 355-359). Page 359 also includes: “The Louisiana Streamlining Government Commission recommends to the governor and the Louisiana Legislature that the existing but currently unoccupied “Big Charity Hospital” building be rehabilitated and used as a public teaching hospital if the State of Louisiana decides to go forward with its plans to construct such a hospital in New Orleans.”
Gregg Stafford is the beloved New Orleans trumpet player, community leader and co-founder of the Black Men of Labor social aid and pleasure club. Here Mr. Stafford talks about the importance of Charity Hospital in his own life, and the life of his City of New Orleans. Charity is "where I took my first breath of life," he says. "We're trying to rebuild the city and a lot of people need Charity Hospital to reopen." See the full video here.
Tom Piazza is the New Orleans-based author of City of Refuge and a writer for the upcoming HBO series Treme. His book Why New Orleans Matters, written immediately after Hurricane Katrina, received the 2006 Humanities Book of the Year Award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Here Mr. Piazza speaks from about the importance of Charity Hospital from the porch of a Lower Mid-City home. "Charity is a central part of the community," he says. "New Orleans seems to be based, in large measure, on a respect for and an understanding of the past. If you lose that, you lose a lot of what makes the city what it is." See the full video here.
By Marsha Shuler
Advocate Capitol News Bureau
Published: July 17, 2009 - Page 1A
LSU System health-care chief Fred Cerise said Thursday the state relied on recommendations from building experts to make the decision to keep Charity Hospital in New Orleans shut after Hurricane Katrina.
Cerise disputed claims by the retired Army general who led recovery efforts that were reported earlier this week.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. General Russel Honoré said the cleaned-up hospital could have reopened for business in late September 2005, a month after the storm hit.
Building experts advised to the contrary, Cerise told the LSU Board of Supervisors.
Honoré said recently then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco told him a month after the hurricane hit that the hospital would never be reopened.
His remark added to speculation that state officials used the hurricane as an excuse to shutter the Depression-era facility and get federal money to help build a replacement.
Blanco has said she did not recall such a conversation with Honoré. She said she never would have made the statement because she did not know what the plans were for Charity Hospital at the time.
Cerise’s comments came during a meeting of the LSU Board of Supervisors.
Cerise responded to a question from LSU Board member Tony Falterman, who asked, “Why so many years after the fact, he (Honoré) would come forward with this information?”
“With so much controversy going on around the hospital, who knows what the genesis of his last round of remarks are,” Cerise replied. “It’s four years later.”
Historic preservationists and some area residents contend Charity Hospital should be renovated and reopened as a hospital by LSU.
They are challenging state plans to build a proposed $1.2 billion medical complex on other property which would be part of a development with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Cerise said Blanco called him about Honoré’s claim.
Blanco could not recall any such comments and asked if he did, Cerise said.
“I told her I certainly was not involved in those decisions at that time,” said Cerise, a physician who was Blanco’s health secretary at the time.
“There was no doubt there was a first-floor cleanup, but there are a lot of other factors that enter in,” said Cerise, of Honoré’s clean-up claims.
In other words, Falterman said, “It’s not as simple as clean up the first floor.”
“That’s correct,” Cerise said.
Cerise said the administration was relying on advice from the state Office of Facility Planning and Control run by Jerry Jones.
Jones ruled against the reopening of Charity Hospital, he said.
LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans chief Larry Hollier said architectural and engineering consultants gave their professional opinions on whether Charity Hospital should be reopened.
“It was not a viable alternative to put it back as a hospital. The first floor was clean, but that doesn’t take care of the mold in the air and other environmental problems,” Hollier said.
Dr. Jack Andonie, chairman of the LSU board’s health committee, said the building is “nothing but a total disaster. There’s asbestos in the walls.”
“What people don’t understand it’s OK to open an emergency room and you have an emergency room, but where do you take patients for surgery, ICU? Where do you do the acute care?” asked Andonie. “They have to have the back up.”
(AP) — NEW ORLEANS - Weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans and worsened the medical plight of the city's poor, then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the publicly run Charity Hospital would not reopen, even though the military had scrubbed the building to medical-ready standards, the retired Army general who oversaw the work said.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Lt. Gen. Russel Honore said Blanco told him in late September 2005 the 20-story building that served the region's poor residents would not reopen.
"'Ma'am, we got the hospital clean, my people report ... if you want to use it,'" Honore recalled telling Blanco. "Her reply to me: 'Well general, we're not going to open it, we're working on a different plan.'"
Honore's revelation raises questions of whether state officials used Katrina as an excuse to leverage federal financing for a new public hospital.
It comes as state and federal officials continue squabbling over how badly the hospital was really damaged and how much federal recovery funding should be allocated to it.
The state wants $492 million for a new hospital to replace the Depression-era building as part of a proposed $1.2 billion medical complex. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has offered $150 million for repairs. The dispute is on appeal at FEMA headquarters.
Blanco said she could not remember the conversation with Honore. She said she didn't know the military had scrubbed Charity until she was contacted by the AP.
But she said Honore's comments struck her as out of context. "I would not have made that statement because I would not have the first idea of having other plans for Charity at that moment," Blanco said.
Honore suggested that money, not medical judgment, was at the heart of the decision.
"This is about business, man," Honore said. "This is about rich people making more money. This is not about providing health care."
Keith Twitchell, president of the good-government Committee for a Better New Orleans/Metropolitan Area Committee, said "anything he (Honore) says must be given credence," but it seemed improbable that state officials hatched long-term plans so quickly.
"Two, three weeks after Katrina, it's hard to imagine anyone at the state level was thinking, 'Oh, boy, this is our chance to shut down Charity,'" Twitchell said.
Charity's closing forced needy residents to turn to the few overcrowded, private hospitals still operating, which financially stressed them.
FEMA also spent more than $90 million to open temporary facilities, including a hospital in a shopping mall.
In documents filed with FEMA, the state said a damage assessment was done at Charity within the first two weeks after Katrina. Citing floodwater in the basement, wind damage to the roof, widespread mold and human and medical waste, they claimed the hospital was destroyed.
Blanco said she was told Charity was contaminated because the air conditioning and heating systems flooded and "affected the core operations of the entire building."
She said she relied on the advice of Jerry Jones, director of State Facility Planning and Control, an office that oversees public buildings. Jones did not return repeated telephone calls seeking comment.
When the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in the ravaged city in early September 2005, Charity was identified as key. It was in the center of town and provided a lot of people care, said the division's commander, Gen. William Caldwell.
About 150 soldiers and a team of medical professionals worked to get the hospital running, Caldwell said.
Meanwhile, a German military team's pumps sucked water out of the basement. Air sampling found no contamination-a concern, considering the flooding and bodies in the flooded morgue, Caldwell said.
Caldwell recalled telling Honore the hospital was nearly ready to receive patients. "We were actually thinking of having a ribbon-cutting ceremony, give a thumbs up and turn it over to the health care professionals," Caldwell said.
But then, Caldwell said a decision came to stop the cleanup.
Dr. James Moises, a former Charity emergency room doctor who helped clean the hospital after Katrina, said Charity was made useable, and the medical staff was eager to see it back in use.
Moises said state officials used Katrina as an excuse to close Charity and ask FEMA for the money to build a new medical complex. Moises said: "It was their orchestrated plan. It was, 'How can we manipulate the disaster for institutional gains?'"