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Hospital saga continues as board approves scaled back plan

12th September 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

On Thursday, the University Medical Center governing board unanimously approved a scaled back $1.09 billion financing plan for the replacement to Charity Hospital.

The smaller proposed hospital won plaudits from voices as varied as New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to Governor Bobby Jindal, especially due to the fact that the state will not have to issue financing bonds to help construct the new facility. However, despite claims that no major part of the multifaceted teaching hospital were jettisoned as the project was scaled back by almost $300 million, many of the critics of the new UMC asked how that was possible. As Sandra Stokes, board member of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana put it, “Abracadabra- a miracle! Same project for much less money. It’s magic!”

To her, it’s tragic, as well. As she explained, “Three years ago the Foundation for Historical Louisiana released its study on the feasibility of reusing Charity Hospital. In the $600,000 study, one of the world’s leading architectural firms said we could have a modern, 21st century teaching hospital opened in 3 years of construction time. Well, if the plan had been adopted, we’d have a hospital now. “

“We could have all those thousands of jobs now. We could have all of the economic impact, all of the research, the training for medical students, and be on the road to becoming one of the leading academic medical centers in the nation – now.”

“Instead, we have desecrated a recovering neighborhood, abandoned our downtown, and only now are officials looking for ways to fund building a $1.2 billion Taj Mahal hospital. All that, and there is still no business plan. The state’s own consultants say we can’t afford to build, much less sustain the current scheme proposed by LSU.”

“Three years ago, seventy-seven neighborhood, community and civic organizations, and thousands of citizens called on Governor Jindal to do an objective cost/benefit analysis to determine the best way to move forward in building a world class teaching hospital. Just recently the Governor requested that the University Medical Center Board hire consultants to finally create a business plan and examine all options for building and sustaining this hospital – so that it won’t bankrupt the state. And still, they will not consider Charity Hospital. Did the Governor mean to look at all options except the one with a $600,000 legislatively-charged feasibility study behind it?”

But instead, the Jindal Administration opted for a proposal by Verité Healthcare Consulting, which envisions the new UMC opening in 2015 with the clinical, education and research activities currently provided at the Interim LSU Hospital, or ILH, and other activities displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, being transferred to the new UMC. The new UMC would also serve as a teaching affiliate for Tulane University and other institutions.

As proposed, the UMC will include 424 beds in three inpatient towers, an emergency room and trauma center, a physician’s tower, a diagnostic and treatment building and support structures. Project costs would be reduced from the originally estimated $1.2 billion to $1.088 billion because UMCMC revenue bonds will not be issued for construction of the project, saving $82 million in financing costs and lower construction expenses. Revenue bonds will not be issued because the LSU Physicians Foundation will take on responsibility for financing the physicians’ tower and parking structure.

For the new business plan, State General Fund support will average $52.5 million for the first six years of operation. Governor Jindal said, “The plan lays the groundwork for us to build a hospital that is a first-class regional center of excellence, a safety net for those who need access to health care services, a world-class teaching facility that will train the next generation of medical professionals, and a catalyst for more research and development, economic development, and good, high-paying jobs.”

Still, as Stokes explained, the Jindal Administration has never seriously examined if a new hospital should be built at all, or if a modern hospital could be rebuilt within the current Big Charity building at a lower cost. “What are they afraid of? That we will learn the plan [to build a new hospital] was half-baked all along? I think that has been made quite evident by the recent study by the nationally respected consultant Kaufman Hall. That the closure of Charity Hospital was unnecessary? There is plenty of military testimony that backs this up. How about that a new building is needed to attract private pay patients and be world class? Examples across the nation belie that notion. It is not what the exterior of the building looks like – but the talent and equipment you put inside. That Charity symbolizes care for the less desirable – and we don’t want that image? A well-orchestrated educational campaign focusing on the reuse of an Art Deco landmark will surely erase any unwarranted apprehensions concerning the National Register building.”

“So here’s to the ribbon cutting that didn’t happen,” Stokes continued, “the jobs that didn’t materialize, and the healthcare that is so needed. Instead of opening the hospital, we are starting from scratch in a legal, fiscal and political quagmire in Mid-City.”

“There is always time to do the right thing. Revitalize the downtown area by building state-of-the-art healthcare facilities in existing buildings. Concentrate the BioDistrict in the cleared out land in Lower Mid-City and create the long touted synergy. Let’s not risk losing the entire hospital — and anymore time.”

The UMC proposal will go before the joint legislative committee on health for final approval. As Stokes noted, time is running out.

This article was originally published in the September 12, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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