Sunday, May 25, 2008

Busy Week to Save Charity and its Community

This past week was busy in New Orleans. Just as the rain came down in a big way on Thursday afternoon, two pivotal decisions for healthcare access and the recovery of the Crescent City were handed down over the course of this week.

On May 20th the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Charity Hospital and the adjacent neighborhood to its list of the 11 Most Endangered historic sites in the nation. Each year, the Trust lists eleven sites that are of historic importance and in danger of being lost. This past Tuesday, Charity Hospital was added to that list in a move that may prove to be monumental in the fight to preserve the Art Deco building on Tulane Avenue, and the surrounding community.

Just a few months ago LSU announced plans to demolish not only Big Charity, which LSU deemed unfit to house a medical facility, but also around 200 homes in the adjacent neighborhood that fell into the "footprint" for development of a new medical complex. The decision to further displace many families who already suffered the trauma of the initial displacement of Katrina is all the more controversial because of the existence of a nearby site that is uninhabited. Many of these homes were built before 1880, and warrant the same protection as other treasured historic sites in the city. This battle to save the neighborhood has been arduous for the many residents who are committed to retuning to their homes. A city ordinance has been enacted to deny many homeowners building permits to begin re-construction of their homes. Some residents had returned to their homes prior to that ordinance, so streets like Palmyra, where the Trust held its press conference announcing Charity's inclusion in their 11 Most Endangered list, have spotty re-development if at all.

There are residents in exile who are determined to return home, and continue to live in their neighborhood that families have called home for generations, yet they are being blocked from doing so by the same government who called for them to return home when the outlook for the future of the city was at its bleakest. To paraphrase the remarks of one resident, those that have called the neighborhood adjacent to Big Charity home have been left hanging in the air, unsure of whether to stay, go, or sell.

This announcement adds yet another voice to the call to save Charity and the neighborhood that surrounds it. Walter Gallas, director of the New Orleans field office of the Trust remarked that LSU needs to have transparent plans for the development of this area, as many of the proceedings to this point have been shrouded in secrecy. He also commented that this battle to preserve the area and the hospital is not an attempt to block progress and preclude the population from obtaining 21st century health care, however there should be responsible development that does not disadvantage residents, but engages them.

On Friday morning, two key decisions were handed down in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. The first hearing for the litigation against the LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans for the closure of Charity Hospital was held in Civil District Court this morning. The defense argued that the wrong party was being sued, and that the LSU Board of Supervisors should be named defendant in the suit instead of LSUHSCNO, and as such the case should be heard in East Baton Rouge Parish instead of Orleans. Judge Ethel Simms-Julien disagreed on both counts, ruling that the correct party was named in the suit and that the case will be heard in Orleans Parish. Among the reasons cited by attorneys for the plaintiffs was the fact that all of the operative decisions, actions and facts related to the case took place in New Orleans.

After the successful hearing an informational session was held to give a summary of the day's developments and to discuss the ongoing process of the suit. Tracie Washington, LJI President and CEO introduced to the audience the attorneys working on the Charity litigation, and discussed how this case ties hand-in-hand with the organizing and preservation work for Charity and the surrounding community.

During the session Leonard Aragon and LJI's Steve Jupiter cautioned that though today's rulings are a step in the right direction, there is much work left to be done. In summarizing the current health legislation, Brad Ott noted, "Healthcare is being paraded as a commodity that we have to buy and sell," however health is an inalienable human right that should be afforded to all. To close the meeting, Steve Rosenfeld stated that though the legal argument in this case is a good one, "a good legal argument by itself never toppled a large institution." Rosenfeld stressed that in order to prevail; a coalition of concerned citizens must join together and provide a human face. That coalition should not be comprised solely of New Orleanians, but residents from around the state.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Charity Hospital Action This Friday, May 23!

This Friday, May 23, we will convene to discuss our current litigation to replace the care that was lost with the closure of Charity Hospital and to give an overiview of our vision of the future of healthcare reform in Louisiana.

Where: McKenna Museum of African American Art

2003 Carondelet St.

New Orleans Louisiana

When: May 23, 2008

Please RSVP to For questions and more information please call: Louisiana Justice Institute (504) 872-9134.

Firm to determine whether Charity can be restored
Independent study will examine building
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
By Jan Moller

The Times Picayune

BATON ROUGE -- An internationally renowned architecture firm has been hired to conduct what some are describing as the first independent study of whether Charity Hospital can be restored into a viable health-care facility after sustaining major damage from Hurricane Katrina.

The Foundation for Historical Louisiana has tapped RMJM Hillier, a Philadelphia company, to examine the potential cost and viability of bringing back the Depression-era Art Deco building on Tulane Avenue on a temporary or permanent basis.

Sandra Stokes, the foundation's executive vice chairwoman, said previous studies commissioned by Louisiana State University, which operated the hospital before it was mothballed after Katrina, have focused on the damage done to the building by the hurricane and subsequent flooding.

"There have been no structural assessments looking at the building as a whole," Stokes said.

The assessment comes at a critical time for LSU, which is planning to build a $1.2 billion, 484-bed replacement for Charity Hospital in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

A business plan for the proposed new hospital is under review by the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

The new study could potentially provide a boost to community activists who have long maintained that an independent study would show the hospital can be reopened quicker and at less cost than building a new hospital.

LSU officials have said the building was in disrepair and in need of replacement even before Katrina, and that the hurricane rendered it permanently unusable for delivering health care. "We think the building was fatally damaged by the hurricane," said Charles Zewe, a spokesman for the LSU System.

Stokes said the study, which is privately financed, was prompted by House Concurrent Resolution 89, which the Legislature approved in 2006. According to the resolution, the study will first look at whether the bottom three floors of the 1 million-square-foot building can be reopened on a temporary basis.

But Zewe said LSU wouldn't have enough staff to operate a new temporary hospital. The school has reopened about 230 beds at University Hospital and a network of outpatient clinics since the storm, but Zewe said University could have 350 beds in operation if enough doctors, nurses and technicians were available.

RMJM Hillier's previous restoration projects include the U.S. Supreme Court and the Payne-Whitney Gymnasium at Yale University. Stokes said the review is expected to begin next week and will take about three months to complete.
. . . . . . .
Jan Moller can be reached at or (225) 342-5207.

Congrats, Lauren!

LJI's staff attorney, Lauren Bartlett, has written an article published by the April 2008 issue of American Jurist. Her article, "Perspectives: 100,000 Victims of FEMA" is available here. Keep up the great work, Lauren!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

NO WAY TO TREAT OUR PEOPLE: FEMA Trailer Residents 30 Months after Katrina

The Louisiana Justice Institute and the Children's Defense Fund released a report on the dire circumstances of residents still living in FEMA trailers over two years after Katrina on Wednesday April 30, 2008. We held a press conference at the Children's Defense Fund office that morning, which was well attended by local advocates, community members and the press. Please see below for some photos of the press conference.

To download a copy of the report or any of our other publications, please go to: