From an article by Rick Jervis and Brad Heath, USA TODAY:
Nearly 3½ years after the flood ended, Charity Hospital is still empty. Plans to replace the soaring Art Deco-era hospital with a new one are stalled. Instead, Charity has become perhaps the most notable symbol here of the languid pace of government efforts to rebuild or replace billions of dollars worth of public works wrecked when Katrina and Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. Among thousands of projects that still haven't moved forward, none has been as big or contentious as Charity.
The result, says Dr. Kevin Stephens, New Orleans' health director, is that the city lacks a hospital capable of handling the most severe trauma cases and isn't able to train enough new physicians. Without that, he says, the city will keep losing doctors, further straining its health care system.
"You have to train the medical students with the best equipment and latest techniques," Stephens says. "Or else the shortage is going to continue."
The sticking point over Charity's future is money. Louisiana wants $492 million in federal disaster aid, money it says it needs to replace Charity with a new $1.2 billion teaching hospital and medical complex; the state plans to pay for the rest. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says much of the damage to Charity was caused by years of neglect that disaster aid wasn't intended to fix. Its latest offer was $150 million.
Even that number may be inflated. FEMA engineers identified only about $99 million in storm-related damage to the hospital, which was in poor shape before it flooded. The government tacked on another $51 million, partly out of "a desire to accelerate the recovery of the health care system in New Orleans," according to an agency report. Federal law generally limits disaster aid in the government's Public Assistance program to specific repairs.
FEMA spokesman Bob Josephson says the additional money is for "disputed damages that could not be conclusively determined as disaster-related." The project is stuck until the funding stalemate ends, says Raymond Lamonica, general counsel for Louisiana State University, which operated Charity.
After Katrina, Charity's doctors worked out of tents. Then they saw patients in shopping centers. They're still in temporary quarters, working out of another hospital near Charity that was hurriedly reopened after Katrina.
The giant downtown hospital opened in 1939 and was a key provider of health care for the city's poor and uninsured. Even before it was waterlogged, Charity was in rough shape. Reports prepared for the state showed its roof leaked, and critical systems weren't up to code, requiring millions of dollars worth of repairs.
Today, the hospital on Tulane Avenue is ringed by an 8-foot-tall chain-link fence topped by barbed wire. Sections of plywood cover windows that have blown out.
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