Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What is LSU hiding?


Access barred to LSU hospital tour
09:27 PM CST on Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Melinda Deslatte / Associated Press
Video: Watch the Story

BATON ROUGE, La. -- A legislative walking tour of Charity Hospital in New Orleans on Tuesday appeared to violate Louisiana's open meetings law when several people were barred from the tour.

Fourteen lawmakers joined LSU officials and others to walk through the storm-damaged and shuttered public hospital that the university has decided against renovating in favor of constructing a new teaching facility nearby.

But several people who favor renovation over new hospital construction said they weren't allowed on the tour even though it was advertised as a public meeting of a legislative health care subcommittee.

State law requires meetings of public bodies to be open to the general public, with limited exceptions.

About two dozen people walked through the damaged New Orleans hospital, known as Big Charity, including 14 lawmakers, legislative staff, LSU officials, a former legislator and others.
Sandra Stokes, executive vice chairwoman of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, said she, along with an architect who reviewed the condition of Big Charity and a doctor who is advocating for the reopening of the storm-damaged hospital were blocked from joining the tour.

"We were left outside, and we were purposely left outside," she said.

A reporter from a local New Orleans television station who arrived later also wasn't allowed on the tour, Stokes said.

After returning from Tuesday's meeting in Philadelphia with President-elect Barack Obama, Gov. Bobby Jindal told reporters he had not heard about the problems but would encourage LSU to let the media and others into the facility. Jindal said he believes having others see the building's condition would bolster the state's arguments that Hurricane Katrina did extensive damage to the facility.

LSU officials and Rep. Jim Fannin, who asked the university for the tour, disagreed over who decided to bar entrance to the hospital.

The Foundation for Historical Louisiana, which was charged by the Legislature with evaluating whether Big Charity could be reused as a hospital, has been at odds with LSU officials over what to do with the building after floodwaters swamped the hospital in 2005.

Rather than gut and rebuild the shuttered hospital, the state and LSU plan to build a replacement facility for the Art Deco landmark. The preservationist group hopes to renovate the hospital -- and keep intact the historic neighborhood that is expected to be torn down to make way for a new hospital.

A team of architects with RMJM Hillier, a New York-based architecture firm hired by the foundation, said renovating Charity Hospital would be cheaper and faster than building a new hospital. LSU disagrees with those findings.

Steve McDaniel, a Philadelphia-based principal with RMJM Hillier, said the hope with the walking tour had been to have people stand in a part of the facility and to show them architectural drawings of how it could look in the future.

University system spokesman Charles Zewe said LSU objected to the presence of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana on the tour. But Zewe said Fannin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, decided to limit access.

"It was his decision, and LSU honored his wishes, period," Zewe said.

Fannin said he asked for a small group of lawmakers to be able to look at the condition of the flooded hospital and let LSU make the final decision on whether to allow others to enter, based on concerns about health risks and liability issues.

"I didn't in any way decide who couldn't come in," said Fannin, D-Jonesboro. "I don't have control of the keys, and I don't have control of the officers that let folks in or out."

Fannin said there was no debate about the future of the hospital and no votes taken. He pledged to have Appropriations Committee hearings on whether to renovate Big Charity or build a new hospital.
AP reporter Becky Bohrer contributed to this report from New Orleans.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Eugenics Is Not A Laughing Matter

Watch Rep. John LaBruzzo defend his sterilization proposal on CNN:

Friends in Louisiana and Beyond:

Well, here we are again, our wonderful state of Louisiana in the national news. Unfortunately, we have not been placed in the spotlight for our great music, festivities, or food. No, for the past week we have been the target of very deliberate ‘dumb-southerners' humor, thanks to Louisiana State Rep. John LaBruzzo's call to sterilize all poor and low-income people, as a budgeting alternative.

Eugenics is no laughing matter, however. So many of us returned to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina to improve our state and, hopefully, repair its image as a corrupt, backward ‘Island of Ignorance.' We cannot afford to tolerate Rep. LaBruzzo's brand of divisive politics and ignorance.

Our Louisiana legislators could simply ignore their colleague, but we say no. We want these state leaders to state united - Democrats and Republicans - and condemn Rep. LaBruzzo's call for sterilization legislation. Thus, an online petition has been launched in support of this effort. Please go to and sign our petition.

Additionally, please share this email with your friends, neighbors, and family members all over this country. Help us spread the word and encourage our Louisiana Legislators to condemn Rep. John LaBruzzo's reprehensible proposal.

United, we can make a difference.

With kindest regards,


Monday, September 8, 2008

Displaced Poor Still Arriving in New Orleans as Saints Go Marching In

This blog is cross-posted at Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He can be reached at

Tears dripped down her face as she searched for her missing suitcase in the busy New Orleans bus station. "It had my ID, my children's birth certificates, my money and my credit cards," she softly cried. It was Sunday morning, one week after she was bused out of New Orleans to a military base in Arkansas. She was supposed to be at work. Her three children needed her. But she needed that suitcase.

A single, older woman, clinging to her heavy bag and a single crutch, sighed as she got off the bus from Kentucky. A little boy with a Lightning McQueen backpack, almost bigger than he was, gave a tiny fist bump to the first person he saw. A middle-aged woman sat in a plastic chair, eyes closed, head in her hands, slowly rocking.

Outside, black- and gold-attired fans of the New Orleans Saints were drinking and barbecuing, preparing for the noon game. Their smoke drifted over the bus station and mixed with the exhaust from dozens of big buses and the contents of dozens of port-o-lets.

Over a thousand people are expected to be bused home to New Orleans sometime on Sunday. They are the last of around 30,000 people evacuated by the government to hundreds of shelters across the country.

Though 26 percent of Louisiana was reported on Sunday to still be without power, people were more than ready to come home.

The bus station was full of dark blue-uniformed police, camouflaged National Guard soldiers, Health Department workers in sky blue shirts, red-shirted Catholic Charities and Red Cross personnel, lime green day-glo-jacketed volunteers from the local Medicaid office, and many others.

One local judge observed after days at the bus station, "It is unbelievable just how many disabled and elderly people actually live in our community. They just keep getting off these buses with their wheelchairs, their canes and crutches. Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands. Many must usually be housebound, because we rarely see them."

A disabled older woman trudged along with a cane and a garbage bag of belongings as a volunteer pushed the wheelchair of her full-grown, absolutely silent son. "Next time," she said, "we're just going to have to ride it out at home. This was too much."

An old man angrily spurned the offer of ready-to-eat meals from a volunteer. "I need money. Can you help me with that? No? I didn't think so! I spent all my money on this and I'm about to get put out of my house!"

A University of New Orleans professor is collecting information from returning evacuees and will release a study soon. Reports from the New Orleans Worker Justice Center for Racial Justice point out that 1,500 people were housed in an abandoned Sam's Club warehouse that was not set up for habitation. "Mothers have been forced to bathe babies in portable toilets parked outside while diabetics are receiving food that puts them at risk." The Worker Center also published a state policy memo that sent people who evacuated on their own to one type of shelter and people who used public transportation to another type entirely. Another 1,200 were housed in an old Wal-Mart in Bastrop with insufficient toilets and had no shower facilities for at least three days. Others complained that shelter officials rationed everything, even tampons, telling evacuees to come back later when they needed another one.

Another problem were the arrests of evacuees after local officials on their own decided to run unauthorized background checks on each person. Arrests were reported in Atlanta, Bastrop, Chicago, Knoxville, Louisville, Marshall, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Shreveport. Many arrests were for outstanding warrants. The problem is that the New Orleans warrant system is widely criticized as unreliable.

Officials in New Orleans told The Associated Press they had no knowledge of the background checks. Those wishing to use the city's assisted evacuation system had been assured they would not be pressed for identification in order to board buses out of town. The evacuation is seen as key to saving lives and maintaining order during and after a hurricane.

"The problem is there have been massive holes in the warrant system in New Orleans for years," said New Orleans civil rights attorney Mary Howell. "Sometimes the warrants have been thrown out but are still in the system; some people don't know they have warrants out for them." What's worse, Howell said, is that such arrests will have a chilling effect on getting people to evacuate in the future.

At noon, the Saints kicked off in the Superdome. A few blocks away, publicly contracted buses continued to return with hundreds of passengers: the elderly, the disabled, children and those too poor to evacuate on their own, who had not been home in a week. The teary-eyed woman continued the search for her missing suitcase.

Monday, September 1, 2008

'Comfort' ain't 'Cash'! Demand FEMA Provide Monetary Assistance


Eariler today, the FEMA Director announced the federal government would not be providing financial assistance to Gulf Coast Gustav evacuees, but instead would rely upon NGOs such as the Red Cross to provide food, shelter, and 'comfort.' Folks, the bottom line is that nearly 2 million of our friends, family, and neighbors "voluntarily" evacuated the Gulf Coast region, and they cannot possibly return in one, two, or even three days. Leaving New Orleans for me was a 10.5 hour nightmare and, no doubt, trying to re-occupy cities from Lake Charles through New Orleans, and South Louisiana will take time, and money. 'Comfort' ain't 'Cash' and hotels require dollars, not prayers for payment!

Please call and write to Senator Landrieu and Senator Vitter, Governor Jindal, and Mayor Nagin and demand (1) they provide an orderly process to for return of all residents to the greater New Orleans area, and the entire Gulf Coast region, and (2) they force FEMA to provide cash compensation to evacuees inorder to defray the cost for this extraordinary effort.

Senator Landrieu: 202.224.5824
Senator Vitter: 202.224.4623
Governor Jindal: 225.342.7015
Mayor Nagin: 504.658.4000


Hard Time for Huggies!

So we made it! After 10.5 hours on the road, and much humor during several incredibly long stops along IH-59, at about 12:30a.m. today we made it to Montgomery, Alabama and the beautiful LaQuinta Inn. But there was much humor along the way.

I had no plans on evacuating. I figured, someone has to stick it out and insure our government officials open the NOLA doors to EVERYONE this time. But Jacob and Ray convinced me otherwise. Jacob wouldn't leave town without me (there was this 'compromise' of sorts: he would leave if I allowed him to fly to Dallas with his girlfriend. I had these terrible visions of a grandchild named Gustav or Gustavia nine months from now; I laughed as only a mother of a seriously smitten 15-year old can), and Ray, well our Mayor made the decision for me.

Ray Nagin found some humor in stating "All looters will be taken directly to jail. Not parish prison, but the big-house -- Angola." And then he smiled. Guys, I'm not sure whether my reaction was sane, but all I could think of was Hi from Raisin' Arizona, going to the big-house for holding someone up for Huggies! I mean, seriously -- where does he get this stuff. I'm a law and order gal, but sending folks to gen-pop at Angola for stealing Huggies, or a flat-screen, seems a tad-bit draconian. Call me wacky.

So we hit the road at 1:45p.m. yesterday. We were rolling, that is, until IH-59. What was really going on with the Mississippi State Police and its version on contra-flow. No flow. Contrary-to-flow. We travelled 62 miles in 4.5 hours. I had a teenager and a dog with me. I know God would never forgive me for killing them, but I had become convinced I would receive a reprieve for suicide.

At the end of the day, humor and the kindess of strangers gets me through. You know, when people you've never met offer you Crown & Coke through your window (I think they suspended the drinking and driving rules). Watching grown men get out and relieve themselves just along the side of the road. Then watching a grown woman get out and do the same. As she squatted she yelled "Y'all seen this before, so just excuse me, while I excuse me." I wasn't mad at her. And then, when we finally got to Interstate 65, and I stopped for a break and oil for the car, having 2 men offer to help (and give me their numbers, just in case I decide to move to Alabama permanently, and want to settle with a normal, hard-working man, who would bring home his check to me every week). I wanted to leave him Jacob and the dog.

More seriously, during the course of this evacuation, I was able to connect with many advocates throughout the country, all of whom have offered help. There is a website up and running -- Contact Brian Frank ( to add content. As many of you know, on Friday I began collecting contact information for NOLA advocates. After Sunday, Nicole Gillies took over coordination of the list, and if you would like to add your information, and receive the list, please contact Nicole at Kali Akuno and Pam Nath are coordinating a conference call this afternoon, so that we can discuss any needed advocacy. Please send me an email if you would like to be connected and I'll send you the call-in information. Also, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center will also start a Gustav website. They are still in discussions on same, but you may want to check out their site late this evening.

Finally, will serve as a blog-site for advocates. You can comment to this post, or simply send me an email with your post, and I will include same within the hour. I don't do the edit thing guys, so please self-moderate (no cussin'). Politically-incorrect is acceptable.

Folks can reach me by email at and and

Take care of yourselves. Don't stay glued to 24-hour t.v. -- it will just make you crazy!


Monday, August 25, 2008

Friends FROM New Orleans

*Over the course of this week Justice Roars will feature blogs from Tracie Washington and Jacques Morial as they represent the Louisiana Justice Institute at the Democratic National Convention. The first of our DNC blogs comes from Tracie Washington.*

Gulf Coast advocates don't often have the opportunity to relax together. It seems we are always meeting, strategizing, traveling – Working. No doubt, this week in Denver, Colorado will bring much of the same. A large contingent of Gulf Coast advocates have converged on the Mile High Cite to press-flesh and talk equitable recovery. We have brought bags and banners, talking points and tee-shirts, cameras and, well comradare.

We are here because we are not healed. At least, not all of us. And we will sing, speak, and shout that message loud and clear.

But it was at the Friends of New Orleans event that we had a quick chance to let down our hair, kick up our heels, and laugh. Just look at my Beautiful Sister Warriors!

Ashley Shelton, Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation; Shacara Lewis, Every Child Matters; Jessica Venegas, UNITY for the Homeless; Tracie Washington (me); and Dominique Duval-Diop, Policy Link.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Washington Post on Kaiser Report--Does the Truth Hurt or Help?

Most of the local coverage of the recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey on Kartina survivors revolved around a superficial theme of "set-backs but still optimistic." The op-eds and articles did not report on the how the Kaiser report detailed the profound racial and income disparities of the recovery and the growing racial polarization.

The Washington Post went beyond the "feel good" platitudes and presented a clear and honest summary of the findings. The notion that we should hide our problems, especially the racial and class disparities, from the nation as a strategy for winning support for recovery is badly flawed.
Our best friends in Washington are those who are motivated to support a fair as well as effective recovery.

The second link below is to a story about Rep. James Clyburn, the Democratic Whip and the unsung hero of the Katrina recovery who is responsible for much of the legislation aiding New Orleanians today: he's the one who arranged the $3 billion bail out of the Road Home. As you will see in the article, Clyburn, who is African American and an active member of the black caucus, is on the record as saying that "racism" is the primary reason the federal government is dragging it's heels on the recovery. Strategies that rely on elites cajoling the powers-that-be in Washington have accomplished little: appealing to American's sense of racial justice and fairness has been a far more effective strategy. Americans don't view government inefficiency as a moral crime; indeed, they have come to expect it. They do, however, see racial injustice as a violation of our national principles. Hiding inequality only perpetuates inequality and reduces the likelihood of crucial additional aid for blacks and whites, displaced and returned.

This blog was written by guest blogger Lance Hill, Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University ( . He can be reached at

Monday, July 28, 2008

2008 Louisiana State Legislative Recap

Healthcare initiatives were mostly low key, status quo
Reporting and analysis by K. Brad Ott

**This report was previously excerpted in the July edition of our newsletter.**

Overshadowed by its final days of an attempted legislator pay raise and statewide voter indignation, the 2008 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature’s pursuit of state healthcare policy and delivery was remarkably subdued in contrast.

This comes somewhat as a surprise, especially considering both the election of several new and seemingly more conservative legislators for this session because of term limits, as well as a new governor whose major policy orientation as well as professional history hallmarks the private provision of healthcare. Indeed, the 84-day session was most notable for its avoidance of conflict and the paucity of sweeping healthcare initiatives.

Governor Bobby Jindal’s seemingly solid endorsement of the primacy of the LSU-run state Charity Hospital system dismayed conservative and corporate allies who thought that their healthcare redesign proposals towards vouchers for the purchase of private insurance for the poor and uninsured would find a champion in Jindal. Instead the redesign proponents now find themselves virtually irrelevant – belying what was thought of by them as well as feared by Charity Hospital advocates as a slam dunk in their dreams of transforming healthcare delivery and putting the final stakes in the heart of Louisiana’s unique New Deal-era healthcare system.

Proponents of the resurrection of New Orleans’ Avery C. Alexander Charity Hospital continued to receive mixed legislative support. Senator Julie Quinn (R-Metairie) started the session off on a great note however, by virtually demanding an investigation as to why Big Charity (as the New Orleans flagship facility is fondly known) wasn’t reopened after Hurricane Katrina. Community advocates (including this writer) demanded during the same legislative hearing March 25 again why an independent inspection of the facility hadn’t commenced, two years after the state legislature mandated it under HCR 89.

Reaction at once propelled the launch of the independent inspection process (for details go to ) while also ignoring calls for prompt action to fulfill the other part of the 2006 unanimous state legislative call – to reopen Big Charity on an interim basis. Thought-to-be sympathetic legislative allies such as Senator Cheryl Gray (D-New Orleans) and Representative Juan LaFonta (D-New Orleans) publicly eschewed any ideas that such a prospect would be possible or even worthwhile, even as litigation to challenge the closure of Big Charity proceeded to yield legal dividends.

The few legislative attempts to dismantle or diminish the Charity Hospital system and discourage its indigent patients nevertheless met with swift defeat. House Health and Welfare Vice-Chair John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie) authored two bills, HB 808 and HB 919, which sought to dismantle and de-fund the Charity Hospital system by shifting assets towards local hospital service districts. In addition he had authored a bill to limit medical malpractice claims to people who paid for healthcare through insurance, effectively excluding the poor and uninsured. Dubbed ‘Be Wealthy or Be Well’ by Times-Picayune columnist James Gill, this latter bill emerged from committee stripped of most of its provisions and warped into just denying claims to undocumented immigrants! By the time of its emergence in the Senate, HB 887 died a quiet death – just like LaBruzzo’s direct Charity Hospital system attack bills, neither of which made it out of committee.

The one legislative flashpoint concerning Charity Hospital system care and funds involved SB 402, authored by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Baton Rouge), which called for the reallocation of uncompensated care payments towards a more equalized system sharing. An Earl K. Long Charity Hospital physician, Cassidy charged that New Orleans’ Medical Center of Louisiana (encompassing the shuttered Big Charity and the reopened University Hospital) receives a dominant amount of Disproportionate Share (DSH) payments in comparison with other LSU Health Science Center-New Orleans-run hospitals, reportedly over $3000 per uninsured patient in New Orleans versus about $900 each in Baton Rouge and just over $1000 per patient in Houma and Lafayette.

The implications of the bill were two-fold: first it sought to showcase neglect of LSUHSC-NO-run Charity system hospitals outside of New Orleans. Secondly, it also spotlighted the gap, suggested Cassidy, between the amount allocated in New Orleans and actual services delivered. Indeed, he suggested that potentially more than $280 million was unaccounted for – a contention both LSU officials and New Orleans legislators disputed.

An unintended consequence of the legislation was its potential to up-end the proposed LSU/VA Hospital business plan, something which brought out ferocious opposition from most New Orleans legislators. It easily passed out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the upper chamber by a vote of 27-8 (after LSU Shreveport-run Charity Hospitals were stripped from the bill at the suggestion of north Louisiana lawmakers). Yet it deadlocked in the House Health and Welfare Committee 8-8, before Cassidy reluctantly agreed to turn it into a study bill which retained its provisions but set no deadline for implementation. Making its way to the House chamber, the bill was defeated 61-35, with all New Orleans-area legislators, joined by most north and southwest Louisiana ones leading it to its final defeat.

The battle over SB 402 offered the clearest window of the disposition of potential legislative allies that could be in accord with a reopened Big Charity. While their leading member Senator Joe McPherson (D-Woodworth) remains skeptical regarding “beating the dead horse” of Big Charity, he acknowledged that interim needs also need to be met. Several of his north, central and southwest Louisiana colleagues at once defended their regional LSU-Shreveport hospitals while providing crucial support towards south Louisiana Charity facilities. Legislative funding for the new LSU replacement of Big Charity has been in place since 2004 – yet most of these legislators also backed HCR 89. Future success towards upholding the historic mission of Charity Hospitals statewide rests with these legislators, whatever the outcome of Big Charity in New Orleans.

The 2008 Regular Louisiana Legislative Session did pass some noteworthy healthcare policy. Five bills encompass a more comprehensive mental health care plan for the state, as well as addressing New Orleans’ acute behavioral health crisis in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In particular SB 228, authored by Senator David Heitmeier (D-New Orleans) provides for the creation of crisis receiving centers, including presumably the restoration of Big Charity’s Crisis Intervention Unit. Other bills in the package, which were soundly supported by the legislature, Governor Jindal, and criminal justice and public safety allies of Louisiana Healthcare Matters include the ability to order a psychiatric patient to receive treatment if they will not do so voluntarily (SB 182, dubbed “Nicola’s law” by Senator Cheryl Gray, D-New Orleans), allowing psychiatrists off-site ability to commit individuals in crisis through telemedicine (HB 653, by John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie) as well as affording such medical malpractice liability coverage (HB 193, by Kay Katz, R-Monroe).

Other noteworthy healthcare legislation passed includes HB 359, authored by Juan LaFonta (D-New Orleans), which requires school boards to provide information about the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and the vaccine that prevents cervical cancer to students in grades 6-12, subject to parental consent. HB 1071, authored by Noble Ellington (D-Winnsboro), establishes a program to fund forgiveness of student loans for physicians in rural areas. Additionally seven bills relative to healthcare and services for people with autism received approval, including HB 958 by Representative Franklin Foil (R-Baton Rouge) which mandates health insurance coverage of the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders in individuals under 17 years of age.

Several bills also deservedly failed to pass into law, including several proposals to privatize mental health and nursing home services, and the repeal of the motorcycle helmet law. The latter, HB 1295, by MJ “Mert” Smiley, Jr. (R-Port Vincent), had passed out of the House but was soundly rejected in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, following opposition of former Louisiana State Police Superintendent Colonel Jim Champaigne (who reportedly was dismissed by the incoming Jindal administration for opposing the helmet repeal) and Dr. James Aiken, a LSU University Hospital Chief of Emergency Medicine, who suggested that the hospital lacked the critical care beds necessary to treat injured motorcyclists without helmets.

Then there was the remarkable gubernatorial veto of $500,000 for the Greater New Orleans Bioscience Economic Development District. Governor Jindal said that “although this is a very worthwhile initiative, this organization is eligible to apply for matching grant funds from the Louisiana Department of Economic Development or funding from local sources.” A prime promoter of the demolition of the Lower Mid-City neighborhood for the proposed LSU/VA Hospital, GNOBEDD will now have to reapply for funds – opening itself up to justified public scrutiny.

Funding for the Charity Hospital system remained mostly intact in legislative appropriations, after earlier proposed cuts. The LSU Business Plan for a new hospital to replace Big Charity was sanctioned by Jindal’s Department of Health and Hospitals a few days prior to the end of the session. Critics of the Charity system, including the bourbon-backed Public Affairs Research Council (PAR), suggested that this outcome as well as the lack of other “reform” measures left “the state’s monumental problem with healthcare essentially untouched.” So too went the insurance voucher proposal by the Coalition of Louisiana Leaders for Healthcare (COLLAH). It received an early drubbing in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, with the legislature’s dean of healthcare policy, Senator Joe McPherson questioning both its core assumptions and financing for them, which he said would leave Louisiana without a healthcare safety net.

Governor Jindal said July 7 that he would not call another special legislative session this year unless there is an extraordinary situation such as another hurricane. According to published news reports, Jindal said that he will however focus upon healthcare and the economy in the coming months, pledging to make executive changes and potentially plan for an early-2009 healthcare special session. It may be then that the full impact of his decidedly reserved legislative response to date will become fully apparent – and give advocates of healthcare for all and for reopening Big Charity time to organize.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

2 Charity Hospital Op-Eds

This Op-Ed by Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation appeared in the July 3 edition of the Times-Piayune.

A year ago, USA Today told its readers about a feisty Mid-City resident named Bobbi Rogers. Back then, Ms. Rogers was excited about getting started on the renovation of her flood-damaged house. Today, she's dismayed because her home, now beautifully refurbished, is threatened with demolition.

The threat to Ms. Rogers' home -- and many other structures in her neighborhood -- arises from a plan to build a new Veterans Administration medical facility and a 424-bed teaching hospital to replace Charity Hospital, which has been shuttered and moldering since Hurricane Katrina. The plan, which was recently given the go-ahead by Gov. Bobby Jindal and Secretary Alan Levine of the Department of Health and Hospitals, would destroy 150-200 homes and businesses.

In other words, people who saw their homes swamped by rising floodwaters could now see them flattened by roaring bulldozers.
The seriousness of the threat led the National Trust for Historic Preservation to include Charity Hospital and the adjacent historic neighborhood on its 2008 list of America 's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The listing spotlights our alarm over the possible loss of "Big Charity," which is New Orleans ' premiere example of Art Deco design, and a major part of the Mid-City Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It also reflects our concern that plans for constructing the new medical facilities are being pushed too fast, before all the facts are in.

As mandated by a resolution of the state Legislature in 2006, an assessment of the Charity Hospital building is currently being carried out under the direction of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana; the final report on the structural condition of this important landmark is expected to be released by mid-August. The information in this report should be a major factor in -- not an afterthought to -- any decision about the need to construct new hospitals.

Similarly, the destruction of part of the historic Mid-City neighborhood and the displacement of its residents should not be contemplated until there has been a full and open discussion of the reasoning behind a decision that will impact hundreds of families. Up to now, most New Orleanians -- including the owners of property within the proposed footprint of the new hospitals -- have learned about the project primarily through the media. That's wrong. When residents are facing the threat of removal from their neighborhood, they shouldn't be expected to comply meekly, with no explanation of why they are being uprooted.

The National Trust urges the New Orleans City Council, the city's Office of Recovery and Development Administration, the Regional Planning Commission, LSU and the VA to open up the process. When site selection and facility design proceed in a manner that is contrary to established guidelines for historic preservation and environmental reviews the public is understandably left with the impression that federal, state and local agencies are merely going through the motions of compliance.

We all deserve better than this. Specifically, we deserve meaningful discussion of alternative sites within New Orleans, a rationale for the choice of the Mid-City location and a discussion of the extraordinary size of the proposed footprint.

No one disputes that New Orleans needs top-quality, 21st-century facilities for health care, medical education and research. But meeting this need doesn't have to involve the needless sacrifice of a historic neighborhood whose residents have already demonstrated their determination to put Katrina behind them and rebuild their lives in the area they love. If the new medical facilities are truly needed, there are viable alternative sites for them -- sites that won't force people to choose between shiny hospitals and familiar homes.

This letter, written by the Executive Vice Chair of the Foundation for Historic Louisiana, was sent to various state officials including Governor Bobby Jindal and printed in June 5 edition of the Times-Picayune.

The Foundation for Historical Louisiana, pursuant to its charge in HCR 89, has recently hired the firm of RMJM Hillier to do an independent assessment of Big Charity Hospital. RMJM Hillier is an internationally renowned architectural firm that specializes in both preservation and state of the art healthcare design. Due to be completed by August 21, this in-depth evaluation will be the first study to determine the structural integrity of this building and the possibilities of restoring and renovating Charity to a first rate medical facility.

Charity Hospital has been a part of Louisiana’s architectural, cultural and medical heritage for 272 years. Last week the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the hospital and its adjacent neighborhood as one of America’s 11 most treasured and endangered sites. Since its closing there have been several assessments of the hospital, but only to determine the monetary amount of damages to be reimbursed by FEMA. There has been no study to determine the viability and reuse potential of this monumental landmark. That is until now.

The Foundation has worked diligently to fulfill the charge unanimously passed by the 2006 Legislature in House Concurrent Resolution 89. HCR 89 provided no appropriation, thus the study is being funded by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana and donors. We are proud to have been chosen to lead this fact finding mission to provide the first independent assessment of the building and to determine its viability for any future medical use. With the cooperation of the State Office of Facility Planning and LSU, RMJM Hillier has begun this critical evaluation to gather the full data.

We ask that all decisions concerning Charity Hospital and/or a proposed new hospital, which will demolish over 25 blocks of historic homes and businesses in a National Register of Historic Places neighborhood, be put on hold until we have the results from this assessment of a Louisiana icon. Our findings will be issued to the full Legislature, LSU Board of Supervisors, State Office of Facility Planning, and Louisiana Recovery Authority by August 21, 2008.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at 225-445-3800.

Sandra L. Stokes
Executive Vice Chair

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Renaissance Village No More

As of Tuesday June 17, 2008, Renaissance Village, once the FEMA's largest trailer park, officially closed, leaving its residents to find other means of shelter and resources. FEMA provided hotels for up to 30 days. However, these temporary living situations are marked with uncertainty, especially due to the lack of networks to keep residents in contact with each other. For many, the community at Renaissance Village acted as a surrogate family, helping residents cope with what they had lost in New Orleans. There is currently a grassroots effort to gather contact information of former residents and create a resource network to link people back together. LJI hopes to soon have more information on where the former residents of Renaissance Village currently are and what their plans are for permanent housing.

Unfortunately, there has been no news media coverage on the closing of Renaissance Village, which illustrates the continued struggle to accurately report on the circumstance of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

LJI will continue to follow this story as it develops and assist the former residents of Renaissance Village in any way.

Jeff Mendelman, Justice Roars contributor and LJI intern

Monday, June 9, 2008

Recent Editorials on FEMA Trailer Residents and the Need for Permanent Housing

Stress, fear of homelessness are a volatile mix
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Re: "Trailers in N.O. must go by July 1," Page 1, June 6.

Early Wednesday morning, Eric Minshew was fatally shot after a standoff which began when he ordered FEMA workers to leave his trailer outside his gutted house in Lakeview. I have deep sympathy for Mr. Minshew, as well as his family and friends. I am immensely saddened and wish that the severe housing and health crisis on the GulfCoast did not have to come to this. But I cannot say that I am surprised.

Last week FEMA announced that approximately 23,000 families are still living in FEMA trailers across the Gulf Coast. Those Gulf Coast residents in FEMA trailers are more than desperate, as are the thousands of displaced residents left homeless after being denied further FEMA assistance. The fear of homelessness, combined with extremely high levels of stress, worsening mental illness and lack of mental health services, makes this situation volatile.

A few days ago I had to advise a grandmother living with her nine children and grandchildren in a FEMA trailer at Renaissance Village to take a 30-day hotel voucher from FEMA to avoid a standoff and further anguish for her family. The grandchildren had developed health problems since moving into the trailer.

FEMA had already told her that it would not pay her rental assistance. She knew that after she went into the hotel she would have 30 days, and then she and her family would be homeless. She had no money to pay for food while she was in the hotel, and would not have access to the Catholic Charities, health services and transportation that has been provided to residents at Renaissance Village.

What kind of country is this, where we force grandmothers to make a decision between a toxic tin box and homelessness? What would you decide?

As FEMA continues to push these residents out of their trailers and off FEMA assistance, people only become more desperate. As residents and advocates, we are all in agreement: We fear the worse is yet to come.

Lauren E. Bartlett
Staff Attorney
Louisiana Justice Institute
New Orleans

Headline falsely suggests a life of catered luxury
Sunday, June 01, 2008

We were deeply disappointed to read the Sun Herald's May 30 headline "FEMA moving some to hotels, paying for catered meals."

While it's true that families moved to hotels have packaged meals delivered at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day, the article fails to explain
why: hotel rooms do not have kitchens, a refrigerator, a stove or even a microwave.

People are in hotels because of failed policies: FEMA's failure to safely house displaced people; Mississippi's failure to prioritize and build affordable apartments; and local governments' failure to permit affordable housing. This hotel plan is the housing of last resort.

We appreciate FEMA recognizing that families with no place to go, relocated into rooms about the same size as FEMA trailers but without any ability to store groceries or heat soup, has a duty to assist families to eat during this difficult transition time. We believe the Sun Herald should have recognized and reported this fact, instead of using a headline that falsely suggests a life of luxury and ease awaits these formaldehyde-poisoned, displaced, and disrespected Mississippians.

Mississippi Center for Justice

Published: June 9, 2008
New Orleans is struggling with a growing number of sick and disabled people who have become homeless since the hurricane. This crisis will only get worse until local, state and federal officials come together behind a plan that finds short-term housing for them immediately, and permanent affordable housing for them quickly.
Congress can start by approving a mdest, $73 million in funding to house many of the region’s ill and disabled residents, who would also be provided with psychiatric and social services. Such a measure passed the Senate, but it is facing resistance in the House.
Congress also needs to take at least two additional steps to prevent even more people from becoming homeless in New Orleans, where rents have soared since the storm. It should extend the disaster housing assistance program, which is set to expire in March 2009, so more people are not forced into the streets. It should also rewrite federal disaster law to permit the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide the long-term assistance that thousands of hurricane survivors are clearly going to need.
In New Orleans, homeless services agencies estimate that the homeless population has doubled since the storm. The homeless are said to be sicker and more severely disabled than in the past. Outreach workers have come across people suffering from severe mental disorders, as well as from cancer, AIDS and end-stage kidney disease.
In what could be a harbinger of things to come, 30 percent of the people surveyed in one homeless encampment reported that they had moved onto the streets after being cut off from Federal Emergency Management Agency housing assistance or while living in a household that had lost the benefit.
The state of Louisiana has committed itself to creating 3,000 units of supportive housing targeted to extremely low-income families, which includes many people with disabilities and special needs. But for the units to be affordable, Congress must pass the $73 million in funding to pay for rent subsidies.
This would be a terrible place to economize. The dollar amount is small, and the lives of some of this country’s most vulnerable citizens — who were already abandoned once by their government — are at stake.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

We Fear the Worst Is Yet to Come: A Call to Action

Early this morning, Eric Minshew, a 49 year old mentally ill FEMA trailer resident living in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans, was fatally shot by police officers after a standoff which was precipitated when he ordered FEMA workers to leave his trailer when they arrived for an inspection late yesterday afternoon. We have deep sympathy for Mr. Minshew, as well as his family and friends. We grieve and wish that the severe housing and health crisis on the Gulf Coast did not have to come to this. But we cannot say that we are surprised.

On February 26th we posted a blog entry here, warning that over 100,000 Gulf Coast residents faced eminent eviction from their FEMA trailers. We warned that a severe health and housing crisis loomed ahead. That crisis has arrived.

Last week FEMA announced that approximately 23,000 families, over 60,000 residents, are still living in FEMA-supplied temporary housing units across the Gulf Coast. Those Gulf Coast residents still living in FEMA trailers are more than desperate. As are the thousands of displaced residents left homeless after being denied further FEMA assistance. The imminent fear of homelessness, combined with extremely high levels of stress, worsening mental illness, and lack of mental health services, makes this situation volatile and today has led to the tragic loss of a human life.

In New Orleans, by rough estimates, our homeless population has doubled since Katrina, with over 12,000 homeless residents citywide. In addition, over 60% of those residents have been made homeless by Hurricane Katrina and 30% have received FEMA rental assistance at some time after the storm. See last week’s New York Times article for more information on this, here. Moreover, when the Louisiana Justice Institute published our report in April, entitled NO WAY TO TREAT OUR PEOPLE: FEMA Trailer Residents 30 Months after Katrina, we noted that over 7.5% of the FEMA trailer residents we interviewed in January listed mental health problems as the major obstacle to getting out of their trailer. In addition, we noted that only 3% reported having received mental health care since the storms.

Displaced residents on the Gulf Coast have been told over and over again that they have no rights – no rights to return home, no rights to health care and no rights to stay in their trailer. They have filled out form after form, reached out to FEMA, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other social services agencies for assistance. They have searched far and wide for apartments to rent. Sometimes they have been interviewed by the press, interviewed by nonprofits, and some residents have organized themselves and participated in meeting with high level officials from FEMA, HUD and the state governments. They have complained for 2 years or more about symptoms related to exposure to high levels of formaldehyde, including breathing problems, itchy eyes and skin. They have demanded additional mental health services to assist with their worsening insomnia, depression and mood swings. They have been denied rental assistance by FEMA, their Road Home Program money has not come in yet, their contractor ran out with $80,000 of their insurance money. They have been fired from their jobs because they had to move around so much, from trailer park to trailer park, had to take time off to navigate the bureaucracy, go to court, and take their sick children to the doctor. When FEMA offered them a voucher for a hotel room for 30 days, they did not take it. They know that once they leave the trailer there is no going back and they would rather live in the toxic trailer for a few more days, a few more months, than be homeless.

We are not surprised by the news of the deadly standoff between Eric Minshew and FEMA because we have seen the desperation in the eyes of our clients, our friends and the advocates they work with, from Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana.

A few days ago we had to advise a Grandmother living with her nine children and grandchildren in a FEMA trailer at Renaissance Village to take a 30 day hotel voucher from FEMA to avoid a standoff and further anguish for her children. The grandmother had gone on TV the night before, telling the world about her the health problems her grandchildren had developed since living in the FEMA trailer and extended exposure to formaldehyde. The next morning, at 8am, FEMA officials knocked on the door to her trailer and told her she needed to pack her things, collect her children and grandchildren, and move into a hotel by 3pm. The FEMA officials said that she had gone on TV and told the world that her children were being exposed to formaldehyde and she needed to leave that very day before the children were exposed further. This may sound like common sense - how can a mother or grandmother choose to further expose her children to formaldehyde which is making her children sick? However, this grandmother was stuck with two no good options: homelessness or further exposing her children to formaldehyde. FEMA had told her a few weeks before that it would not pay her rental assistance because she could not prove that her pre-Katrina home was storm-damaged. She knew that after she went into the hotel she would have 30 days and then she and her children would be homeless. She also knew that she had no money to pay for food while she was in the hotel and would not have access to the Catholic Charities, FEMA and other assistance, the free health services, nor to the transportation that has been provided to residents at Renaissance Village. What country is this where we force grandmothers to make a decision like that? What you decide? And can we ever know what we would choose in her place after surviving Hurricane Katrina and living in a FEMA trailer in Renaissance Village for almost three years.

We fear the worse is yet to come. As FEMA continues to push these residents out of their trailers and off FEMA assistance altogether, giving deadline after deadline, with little to no case management or other assistance with transition, people will only become more desperate. Our greatest fear is that the violence will only continue and will get worse.

This is a call to action. We need you to stand with us and demand that all displaced residents on the Gulf Coast be provided with the support and assistance that they need, that they deserve. We need you to help us bring dignity and justice back to the table, to ensure that the desperation and violence ends today.

Take Action:

1. Take a look at the blog entry below entitled “Let Your Voice Be Heard on Trailer Evictions” and call FEMA, HUD and the other numbers listed to express your outrage and demand: 1) Immediate, Safe, Affordable and Permanent Housing; 2) Case Management; and 3) An international health registry, health studies and health care for all FEMA trailer Residents.

2. Express your outrage – post comments here, we will compile them and send them to local, state and federal officials.

3. Contact us to join the coalition of residents, advocates and others fighting for all displaced residents.

Let Your Voice Be Heard on Trailer Evictions

Click image to enlarge

Victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita are being evicted from their trailers all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast .

You can help prevent that from happening.

Please contact any of the following offices or your local elected officials to voice your concern for the future of our fellow citizens:

The White House Switchboard: 202-456-1414

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-5824
New Orleans, LA Office: 504-589-2427

Louisiana Senator David Vitter
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-4623
Metairie, LA Office: 504-589-2753

Alabama Senator Richard Shelby
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-5744
Montgomery, AL Office:334-223-7303

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-4124
Montgomery, AL Office:334-244-7091

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-5922
Austin, TX Office: 512-916-5834

Texas Senator John Cornyn
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-2934
Austin, TX Office: 512-469-6034

Florida Senator Bill Nelson
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-5274
Tallahassee, FL Office: 850-942-8415

Florida Senator Mel Martinez
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-3041
Orlando, FL Office: 407-254-2573

Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-5054
Jackson, MS Office: 601-965-4644

Mississippi Senator Roger F. Wicker
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-6253
Jackson, MS Office: 601-965-4644GA

Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-3521
Atlanta, GA Office: 770-763-9090GA

Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson
Washington, DC Office: 202-224-3643
Atlanta, GA Office: 770-661-0999

Louisiana FEMA Office Spokesman Manuel Broussard
(504) 762-2301


The Federal Emergency Managment Agency (FEMA) is evicting trailer residents in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, regardless of the fact that many of these citizens have no permanent housing. LJI has joined forces with Gulf Coast allies in calling for FEMA to FIX THIS MESS!

You don't Have to Go Home...

"What FEMA is offering residents in grossly insufficient," states Shakoor Aljuwani, the lead organizer with All Congregations Together and the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. FEMA is offering a 30-day hotel voucher to some of residents, but not all, who have not yet found housing. If at the end of these 30 days residents have not moved from the hotels and into permanent housing, many residents have been evicted from their hotel rooms with no plans for further arrangements. FEMA, in effect, is finishing the job that began with the levee failures after hurricanes Rita and Katrina, rendering thousands of American citizens homeless for a second time.

Key in this forced removal is that it is not just residents of Renaissance Village in Baker or other FEMA trailer parks that are being evicted, but those who still reside in trailers on their own property as well. A city policy was enacted in order to remove trailers from the property of private citizens due to the well-publicized existence of formaldehyde in the trailers and the potential danger trailers pose during hurricane season. While both those threats are imminent and dangerous, the alternative is homelessness for many of New Orleans’ citizens who run the gamut from vital components of the workforce that keeps the city functioning to the elderly and infirmed. Because of the limited number of reputable contractors, many citizens residing in trailers on their property have not been able to repair their homes. Because of this short-sighted policy and lack of a proposed remedy, these citizens’ future and safety is in jeopardy.

Lack of case management and transition assistance on the ground continues. Due to the dearth of affordable housing—which is in part a result of the destruction of public housing—in post-Katrina New Orleans, there is little to no available rental property. In addition, many available rental properties in the Greater New Orleans Area are disinclined to accept FEMA housing vouchers. Many of these trailer residents are left stranded with no choice but the hotels that FEMA is attempting to strong-arm them into.

A Call to Action

In order to draw attention to this disturbing chain of events, a group of residents and advocates have come together from across the Gulf Coast--from Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana--to advocate for residents left in FEMA trailers and all others who are being left homeless. Last week this group drafted a letter, calling on FEMA to uphold the commitments it made on February 14th to provide assistance to residents transitioning out of FEMA trailers, including moving assistance, furniture, and case management. In addition, the group called on FEMA, HUD, other federal, state, and local agencies and officials to work together to achieve a long-term resettlement plan, permanent affordable housing for all displaced residents on the Gulf Coast, as well as a health registry and health services. The group was able to receive over 30 local. statewide, and national organizations to sign on in support and presented this letter to Paul Rainwater, Director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, William Peterson, FEMA Region 6 Director, Jim Star, FEMA Acting Associate Deputy Administrator, Gulf Coast Recovery, David Vargas, Director of HUD's Voucher Program, the entire LA Congressional delegation, the entire LA state legislative delegation, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, and the New Orleans City Council.

Zack Carter of Alabama Arise. Image courtesy of Shannon Bennett, Episcopal Diocese of LA
In addition, on Thursday May 29, 2008, a press conference was held last week at the Chapel of Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans which was led by Bishop Jenkins of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana featured speakers from hurricane affected areas from across the Gulf South. Testimony was heard not just from non-profit workers, but residents themselves that gave poignant testimony on how they are falling through the FEMA bureaucratic cracks.

Bishop Jenkins speaking to Byron Ragland, a trailer resident, at the press conference. Image courtesy of Shannon Bennett, Episcopal Diocese of LA

The Stories are Heartbreaking

FEMA trailer residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama all spoke of the precarious nature of their situation, unsure of what they could do to either secure permanent housing or remain in these trailers. Two women who lived in trailers on their own property, one from Jefferson Parish in Louisiana and the other from the Mobile area of Mississippi, expressed that their immediate option was to pitch tents in their back yards because their homes are not yet inhabitable. Others reported finding apartments only to be told by FEMA that they were unwilling to subsidize their rent. Still more remarked they were deemed ineligible for FEMA assistance after 2+ years of residing in FEMA trailers, and had no idea of what to do next. Those who testified represented various tracts of society from the disabled to the middle-class, yet each was faced with a similar dilemma.

Image from the May 29th Press Conference courtesy of Shannon Bennett, Episcopal Diocese of LA

We cannot let these decisions by FEMA and the city to go unchallenged. This flyer includes contact numbers for politicians who are in a position to affect change. Please pass along this message and let your concerns for our fellow citizens be heard.

Read the Regional Statement of Displaced Residents here.
Other Articles on the Three State Coalition Advocating on Behalf of Displaced Residents on the Gulf Coast:
Group fights park closures as Sunday deadline nears--The Advocate

FEMA Trailer Residents Unite as Housing Crisis Looms--San Francisco Bay View

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:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Louisiana Justice Institute To Release Report on Residents Still Living in FEMA Trailers More Than Two Years After Katrina

Louisiana Justice Institute (LJI), in partnership with the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), will release their public report on the dire circumstances of residents still living in FEMA trailers over two years after Katrina. A press conference will be held at the CDF offices at 1452 N. Broad Street in New Orleans, Louisiana, at 10 a.m. tomorrow,Wednesday April 30, 2008.

In early January 2008, LJI and CDF coordinated an interview and outreach project aimed at FEMA trailer residents across Louisiana. With the help of law student volunteers, our organizations conducted outreach to over 500 residents and interviewed over 150 residents. This report contains an analysis of the data gathered, as well as stories from the residents themselves.

According to the report to be officially released on Wednesday, the majority of residents living in FEMA trailers are employed. Residents living in FEMA trailers also tend to be older, with an emphasis on the elderly and disabled. 55% of residents interviewed were 50 years old or older and 22% were 62 years and older, and almost 40% reported that someone living in their trailer had “special needs” including a disability.

In addition, many residents reported health problems. Fifteen percent (15%) of the residents interviewed reported they were suffering from depression, anxiety, other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues. In addition, 29% reported rashes, itchy eyes, breathing problems and other symptoms usually related to high levels formaldehyde in their FEMA trailer.

With FEMA reporting that over100,000 people still live in FEMA trailers across the Gulf Coast, it is even more worrisome that 55% of residents interviewed report that if they were to be evicted from their FEMA trailer in the next few months they would have no family they could turn to for help and they expected to be homeless.

With this report, LJI and CDF want national attention focused on the dire circumstances of over 100,000 residents on the Gulf Coast still living in FEMA trailers. In addition, LJI calls on the U.S. government and the governments of the Gulf Coast states to develop a long-term plan to make sure that residents of the Gulf Coast have access to safe, affordable housing, as well as immediate and continued access to medical examinations and healthcare in order to gauge and address all health problems resulting from their exposure to high levels of formaldehyde.

To receive an electronic copy of the report, please email

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Demolition of the final 'Big Four' complex stirs up memories of the past and anxiety about the future of N.O. public housing

Friday, April 11, 2008
By Katy Reckdahl

Forty years ago, Mary Joseph was helping families at the Lafitte public housing development as a home counselor.

On Thursday morning, Joseph, now head of the Children's Defense Fund of Louisiana, sat in her car not far from the Lafitte's Tonti Street court, watching yellow backhoes ripping into the development's buildings.

She felt sorrow as she recalled the late 1960s and early 1970s in the complex, across Orleans Avenue from the offices of prominent civil rights leaders A.P. Tureaud and Dutch Morial and from the frequent civil rights meeting spot, Dooky Chase restaurant. She had been inside nearly every apartment and knew the families well, she said.

Like many who came to view the destruction, Joseph and her co-worker Glenda Harris also talked about the post-Katrina squeeze on affordable housing.

They wondered how much of that shortage could be addressed with the mixed-income housing planned for the sites of the now-demolished "Big Four" housing developments.
Down the street, a group of protesters stood listlessly, holding signs. Among them was lawyer Tracie Washington of the Louisiana Justice Institute, who said she and other attorneys challenged the demolitions in every court, but failed.

She wondered whether the mixed-income developers' plans would shrink now that the value of low-income tax credits used to finance the plans has declined.

Joseph said housing officials should examine the city's needs as a whole, rather than just at replacements for demolished complexes.

"We need a unified housing plan," she said. said. "We are chipping away at this, development by development."
. . . . . . .

A Gathering to Honor Lafitte and Protest Its Destruction on Friday April 11, 2008. From left to right: Glenda Harris, Mr. Joseph, Mary Joseph, Tracie Washington and Lauren Bartlett

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Louisiana Justice Institute (LJI) Invites you to a Public Forum on April 15th, 2008 from 7-9pm


The Impact of the Closure of Charity on the Metro
HOW the REFUSAL of LSU Health
Care Officials to RE-OPEN

- Judge Calvin Johnson, Retired Orleans Parish Criminal
- State Rep. Juan LaFonta, Chair of the Legislative
Black Caucus
- Clinic Dir. Alice Craft-Kerney, RN and Director
of the Lower 9th Ward Health Clinic
- Commander Cecile Tebo , NOPD Mobile Crisis Unit
- NAACP 1st VP Darius Johnson, Chair of the
Local NAACP Health Care Committee

WHEN: 7pm, Tuesday, April 15
WHERE: Loyola U., Roussel Hall, Music
Bldg., Corner of St. Charles Ave. (6300 block) and Calhoun

SPONSORS: LUCAP (Loyola Univ. Community Action Program), Committee to Reopen Charity Hospital, the Louisiana Justice Institute

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Join our Facebook group!

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Search on Facebook for "Louisiana Justice Institute" and click on Join this Group on the right of the page below the LJI Logo.

11am Today: Protest of Demolition of Lafitte Housing Development

I've learned the Housing Authority of New Orleans, Providence Housing, and Catholic Charities -- with the blessings of Ray Nagin and each and every New Orleans City Councilmember -- will begin the demolition of the Lafitte Housing Development on tomorrow.
Lafitte Housing Development is a crime scene. It is the site of a rape and the defilement of a community and a people. We know this. We also know that, just as has happened in the past when 'do-gooder' missionaries come to "tame the natives" -- Catholic Charities and Providence will leave us with a corpse or worse, the caricature of the people they want to help.
Will you please join me and others tomorrow as we stand in protest, beginning at 11:00 a.m. We will meet at the corner of Claiborne Avenue and Orleans Avenue.
Tracie L. Washington, Esq.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tracie Washington receives 2008 Excellence in Public Interest Award from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law

The Texas Law Fellowship 2008 Excellence in Public Interest Award was given to Tracie Washington last Friday, February 29, 2008.

Texas Law Fellowships is a student run fellowship organization at the University of Texas School of Law. and it is the University of Texas branch of the National Association of Public Interest Law (NAPIL) representative organization.

For more information please see:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

100,000 Gulf Coast Residents Face Imminent Eviction

100,000 Gulf Coast residents currently living in FEMA trailers face eviction in the next two to three months. These are the same folks that fought for their lives through the storms and flood waters of 2005. Then they fought to find a place to live, any place. Instead of finding a home, they moved into 32 sq. foot trailers, often far from supportive communities and family members. When residents of trailers began complaining of skin rashes, respiratory problems, itchy eyes, and other health problems in early 2006, FEMA ignored them. When outside groups tested the trailers and found high levels of formaldehyde present, FEMA ignored them. In fact, FEMA kept providing those same trailers to additional residents with the the knowledge that they might be putting the residents at risk. Now, almost 3 years after the trailers were first provided to residents, FEMA wants them out. After hundreds of thousands of children, elderly residents, pregnant women have been exposed to 2 ½ years of obscenely high levels of formaldehyde, FEMA wants them out and has no plans to take care of the health and housing crisis that looms ahead. Though FEMA has not yet set a date or given most residents notices of eviction, these next steps are sure to follow soon.

Where are the 100,000 residents supposed to go? FEMA has no plans for permanent housing for the FEMA trailer residents. In fact, while HUD is taking over rental assistance for Gulf Coast residents who were provided with FEMA rental assistance until last fall, FEMA has announced that HUD has no such longer term plans for rental assistance for residents evicted from FEMA trailers. In addition, while private rental housing has been built and rebuilt at an extremely fast rate, the supply cannot keep up with the need, and the rents are still double and sometimes triple the prices before 2005 in New Orleans. Moreover, almost 50% of these residents are homeowners in Louisiana, still waiting for Road Home Program funds, and many who have already received their rebuilding funds have become the victims of contractor fraud, leaving too many to count still in their FEMA trailers outside their gutted homes. These homeowners face imminent eviction from their FEMA trailers and as one resident put it to me last night, “I know I’m going to be under the Claiborne Bridge by May and after two years of fighting I can’t believe it is going to come to that.” The Claiborne Bridge underpass is now home to the homeless families that had been living in protest in a park in front of New Orleans City Hall until the Mayor decided to fence the park off last month when the Sugar Bowl came to town.

What is more, what medical treatment is being provided today to take care of the rashes, respiratory and other health effects of long-term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde? I met a gentleman last night who is living in a FEMA trailer park in Port Arthur, Louisiana. He told me he has been asking FEMA for 2 years to see a doctor to talk about his breathing and other health problems which developed after he moved into his trailer. FEMA has done nothing and he has already used up all of his allotted Medicaid doctors visits for the year.

FEMA will not be able to use this formaldehyde scare, the same issue that these residents raised with FEMA over two years ago, to get residents out of their FEMA trailers quickly, silently, and without a plan to deal with the long-term health problems they have caused and permanent, affordable housing options for these folks. These residents have been continuously fighting for lives, they have spent too many long hours dealing with FEMA’s bureaucracy and have even found time to develop community plans, which they have presented to FEMA, which would allow FEMA to move folks out of trailers equitably and safely. It is now FEMA’s turn to respond with the same energy and respect that the trailer residents have shown. It is time for FEMA to step up and respond with real recovery efforts dedicated to these people, which we have been waiting on for far too long.

To begin with, FEMA needs a plan that goes beyond hotel rooms for these residents. If HUD is not going to take over rental assistance for trailer residents who are being evicted, what long-term plan is in place? We are particularly worried about the elderly and the disabled trailer residents, many of whom have been left behind and will continue to be left behind in any movement to find permanent housing. As the CDC recommends, multi-agency collaboration will be required to achieve safe, healthy, permanent housing for these residents.

Secondly, the long-term health problems of these residents and their immediate and continuing need for medical assistance must be addressed immediately. The CDC recommends that FEMA should consider establishing a health registry and long-term assistance to the Louisiana and Mississippi Health Departments to ensure adequate monitoring and medical follow-up. We expect no less from FEMA, and more from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and other state and federal health agencies.

Lastly, these residents have been telling FEMA what they needed all along. They have been arranging meetings, signing petitions, developing plans, and writing letters, all to no avail. We expect FEMA officials to start listening to the people and step up to the task of providing for their needs. These folks know what they need... they have been saying it all along.

The KatrinaRitaVille Express ( outside of the CDC/FEMA Meeting in Baker, Louisiana, on Monday February 25, 2008.

CDC/FEMA Meetings Across Louisiana This Week to Discuss Testing and a Study on Formaldehyde Levels in FEMA Trailers

Last night FEMA and the CDC hosted a meeting in Baker, Louisiana, to address the testing of FEMA trailers and a recent study on formaldehyde levels entitled "CDC Public Availability Session about the Air Quality Testing in FEMA-Supplied Trailers and Mobile Homes." This meeting followed closely in the footsteps of FEMA's Valentine's Day announcement that all Gulf Coast residents would have to be out of their FEMA trailers by Summer 2008 due to health dangers from high levels of formaldehyde present in the trailers.

After doing a very poor job to publicize the meeting (most residents found out about the meeting on the news yesterday morning) and announcing the time and location of the meeting to the community only the night before, there were only about 60 residents from four trailer parks in the area. There were, however, also about 5 news stations present, reporters from 5-6 newspapers and various attorneys who represent FEMA trailer residents in lawsuits on the formaldehyde issue.

Michael McGeehin, a medical doctor who works for the CDC, presented his findings on the testings and study that was conducted in December 2007 and January 2008 to assess levels of formaldehyde in travel trailers supplied by FEMA and possible health affects. The key findings he presented included:

• In many trailers, mobile homes, and park models tested, formaldehyde levels were elevated relative to typical levels of US indoor exposure.

• Average levels of formaldehyde in all units was about 77 parts per billion (ppb). This level is higher than US background levels. Levels measured ranged from 3 ppb to 590 ppb.

• These measured levels are likely to under-represent long-term exposures since formaldehyde levels tend to be higher in newer travel trailers and mobile homes and during warmer weather.

• Indoor temperature was a significant factor for formaldehyde levels in this study independent of trailer make or model.

• Formaldehyde levels varied by model (mobile homes, park homes, and travel trailers), but all types of trailers tested had some high levels.

• At the levels seen in many trailers, health could be affected.

After Mr. McGeehin presented his findings, he was flooded with angry questions from the residents concerning access to medical care immediately, housing and long term health affects. The many FEMA representatives who were present at the meeting refused to make a statement at the podium and residents were directed to speak with them in private at the side tables set up for that purpose. Mr. McGeehin also told residents that there were doctors and medical staff present from the CDC who would speak to individual residents about their health problems.

The CDC presented the following recommendations for public health officials pursuant to its study:
• The conclusions support the need to move quickly to relocate trailer residents before the warmer weather of summer, placing highest priority on those who are symptomatic and/or especially vulnerable.
• Appropriate follow-up will require multi-agency collaboration including FEMA, HUD, CDC, and others, to achieve safe, healthy housing for people displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who continue to live in FEMA-supplied travel trailers and mobile homes.
• FEMA should consider necessary assistance to Louisiana and Mississippi Health Departments to ensure adequate follow-up, including medical needs, for trailer residents with health and medical concerns resulting from residence in FEMA-supplied travel trailers or mobile homes and formaldehyde exposure.
• FEMA should consider establishing a registry and long-term health monitoring of children and others who resided in FEMA-supplied travel trailers and mobile homes in the Gulf Coast Region.

The CDC and FEMA are holding several other similar meetings across Louisiana over the next few days. We recommend that you attend these meetings and ask the officials hard-hitting questions about existing medical care for trailer residents, long term health affects of formaldehyde, especially in pregnant women and children, FEMA’s plans for housing the 100,000 residents that are soon to be evicted from their FEMA trailers etc.

Tuesday, Feb. 26, noon to 2 p.m., St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church (2300 Crowder Blvd.)

Tuesday, Feb. 26, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., St. Anna's Episcopal Church (1313 Esplanade Ave.)

Wednesday, Feb. 27, noon to 2 p.m., Nunez Community College Auditorium (3700 Fenelon St., Chalmette)

Wednesday, Feb. 27, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Joseph S. Yenni Government Building (1221 Elmwood Park Blvd., Second Floor Council Chambers, Jefferson)

Thursday, Feb. 28, noon to 2 p.m., Lake Charles Civic Center (900 Lakeshore Drive, Contraband Room, Lake Charles)

Thursday, Feb. 28, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Lake Charles Civic Center (900 Lakeshore Drive, Contraband Room, Lake Charles)

The KatrinaRitaVille Express was present at the meeting last night and will be present at many of the other meetings in Louisiana and Mississippi this week.