Save Charity Hospital

While I’ve devoted myself pretty substantially to the public housing battles in New Orleans, countless conflicts over the redevelopment of the city are at play. One is regarding the future of Charity Hospital, a public facility that is the “oldest, continually operating hospital in the county” and the hospital for the region’s poor and indigent (and, frequently ignored in the following debate: a Level 1 Trauma Center).

“Big Charity” has been closed since Katrina, with a small satellite operating out of the convention center (this link from the American College of Physicians offers an excellent overview of the hospital’s pre-storm operations). The legislative skirmish over how much money to allocate to LA State University (LSU) over re-opening Charity has been both typically partisan and atypically political: while it’s just another fight between Dem. Gov. Blanco and GOP Senator Vitter, it also represents the first time the state legislature overrode the governor’s hand-picked Louisiana Recovery Authority’s recommendations for redevelopment regarding its plans and spending for LSU to re-build Charity. The opposing claims are using federal $$ to re-open Charity as a service provider for the indigent ASAP (Blanco) vs. setting aside some of that $$ for private voucher programs that will theoretically give the poor some choice in healthcare and eliminate the “two-tier” system of healthcare for the poor vs. the insured (Vitter). I say theoretically because voucher programs tend to be circumscribed by who is willing to accept them, and quite often it’s facilities a step above a Charity but rarely the sort of place a discriminating, insured American would opt to seek care.

I often follow healthcare debates without getting too involved in them. Raised by a nurse turned healthcare administrator who has worked most of her life in public facilities – from peds to e/r’s to med-surge hospitals to her current two decades in mental health – I’m familiar with the financial difficulties of insuring and caring for the poor, marginalized and uninsured, but I usually let my mom do the talking in these cases. I am fascinated by the stuff of Charity – this Nerve photographer and NOLA native’s blog post about his family’s history there is one example. (Check out his overall blog – Operation Eden – for some closer coverage of the difficulties in caring for the poor and mentally ill in a post-Katrina world) and I was struck by this photo in particular on view at the Ogden:

Charity Hospital, Ogden Museum of Art

The place just looks ominous and mysterious and yet, powerful.

I know there are serious debates to be had over re-designing a broken healthcare system that pre-dated Katrina. But my ability for any objectivity in the discussion is curbed by my emotional response to the current state of affairs: a city, state, region and population overwhelmed by growing health crises, especially mental health, and especially among the poor. For now, the future of Charity remains unknown, as vulnerable as the lives of so many of the families and individuals who sought care there, and as uncertain as the overall recovery of the Gulf Coast. I do no justice to this issue; please check out the links in this post to learn and understand more.


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