NOLA City Planning Commission Hears from Scores of Citizens about LSU/VA Hospital Plans

Posted on: June 1st, 2009 by Walter Gallas

This past Thursday evening, seven members of the New Orleans City Planning Commission--for the first time before this body in a public setting--heard about the plans for the state and VA hospitals in New Orleans. The commission also got an earful of opposition from the public about those plans, and heard--again, for the first time as a body--that there could be an alternative to those plans, an alternative based on the return of Charity Hospital as a state-of-the-art 21st century anchor of the medical district in New Orleans' Central Business District.

I was one of scores of citizens who testified during the nearly four-and-a-half hour meeting after extended presentations by the city's out-going director of recovery, Ed Blakely; the state; and RMJM Hillier. Dr. Blakely made a point of saying the plans were those of the state and the VA, not the city. The state's representative argued that Charity was in danger of losing its accreditation before Katrina, and therefore no longer suitable for use as a hospital. That argument is immaterial. The RMJM Hillier proposal for the rebuilding of Charity is based on gutting of the entire building to its limestone exterior and floor plates. This structural skeleton would then support entirely new systems inside. None of the existing interior walls or systems would be retained.

The citizen comment was strictly limited to three minutes. Outbursts and spontaneous applause from the audience were promptly tamped down by an ever-vigilant commissioner. A number of physicians spoke in favor of the rebuilding of Charity and the dire need for medical care of all kinds in New Orleans. In my comments, I observed that the city seemed to want it both ways--saying it has no role when its planning department is asked to take leadership; and on the other hand, confecting agreements with the state and VA that very much demonstrate its intimate involvement with these controversial plans.

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