Morning Report 9/19/05Clinical Insanity


We build new hospitals all over Iraq, while big New Orleans hospital was a charity case even before Katrina

Civil strafe: A nice, new health clinic in Sadr City, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose funds for levee rebuilding in New Orleans were axed so the Corps could focus on Iraq.
The venerable Charity Hospital in New Orleans, where a courageous staff and needy populace couldn’t get help even before Hurricane Katrina hit.

Charity Hospital in New Orleans — what a disaster. I’m talking about long before Hurricane Katrina hit.

While the Bush regime has been spending millions of dollars in Baghdad, Najaf, and other Iraqi cities through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild (because of our shelling,) and build hospitals and clinics, what about “Big Charity,” as the locals in New Orleans call it?

Yes, Baghdad and New Orleans in the same story. Some of us can walk and chew gum at the same time.

If, because of the 24/7 coverage of Hurricane Katrina, you’ve lost track of what’s going on in that other Gulf war — where Americans continue to be killed, by the way — check out Ellen Knickmeyer‘s grimly fascinating story in this morning’s Washington Post:

Using enemy body counts as a benchmark, the U.S. military claimed gains against Abu Musab Zarqawi‘s foreign-led fighters last week even as they mounted their deadliest attacks on Iraq’s capital.

But by many standards, including increasingly high death tolls in insurgent strikes, Zarqawi’s group, al Qaeda in Iraq, could claim to be the side that’s gaining after 2 1/2 years of war. August was the third-deadliest month of the war for U.S. troops.

Back to New Orleans: “Big Charity” is “the oldest continually operating hospital in the country,” as Deborah Gesensway of the American College of Physicians Online noted way back in April 1999. Yes, it was founded in 1736. Isn’t that nice?

But let’s focus for a moment on 1999, during the Clinton administration, when Louisiana’s poverty rate was the fourth worst in the nation, and the fifth worst in percentage of its people who had health insurance. Back then, Gesensway noted, 22 percent of New Orleans didn’t have health insurance. Big Charity was big-time beleaguered. As usual in this country, a disproportionate number of these poor people are black. Don’t even try to avoid racial issues when discussing U.S. politics.

Fast forward to 2003, courtesy of Katy Reckdahl of the New Orleans paper Gambit Weekly: Louisiana legislators cut $40 million from Big Charity’s budget in 2003. The hospital had to shut its crucial W-16, the walk-in clinic that saw 40,000 patients a year. Do you understand what that might have done to the already overloaded emergency room? Here’s a passage from Reckdahl’s October 2004 story:

In a typical Charity Hospital waiting room, 80 percent are working people, most of whom work low-wage jobs and can’t afford health insurance premiums, according to hospital data. The number of Americans without insurance reached the highest level on record in 2003, according to U.S. Census data released in August [2004].

Nationwide, one in six people lack health insurance. In Louisiana, only about one in 10 children are uninsured, thanks mostly to the state’s Medicaid-LaCHIP program. But one in four of the state’s adults, aged 19 to 64, lack insurance, a topic that the Governor’s Health Care Reform Panel will tackle in their next meeting, scheduled for New Orleans in December [2004]. …

“In the city of New Orleans , we’re the sickest of the sick,” says Dr. Kevin Stephens, director of the city’s health department. “We have the worst numbers in the country.” He lists off grim statistics — the worst death rate for diabetes in the country, the highest rate of amputations because of diabetes, and the highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases.”

New Orleans has, for a long time, had a shortage of primary-care providers, he says. Then W-16 closed, and the city had a true crisis on its hands.

Oh, but help was on the way. In June 2004, the city had submitted a 200-page application to the Bush regime’s health officials, seeking a grant of $650,000 a year for three years for a neighborhood health clinic. Reckdahl wrote that such grants “are extremely difficult to get,” and she noted:

This would be the city’s second federally qualified health center. There should be many more. “In the city of Boston, there are 26,” says Stephens.

Fast forward to 2005 — and go halfway around the world to other poor people of color.

In Baghdad’s huge slum known as Sadr City, which we used to storm and shell in search of its hero, Moqtada Al-Sadr, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building six — six — new health clinics.

First we unjustifiably invaded Iraq. Then we bombed the shit out of it. Now we’re rebuilding it. Plenty of work for the Corps of Engineers and its main partners, Halliburton and Parsons. As the Corps notes:

Six new primary healthcare centers in Sadr City are taking shape. They are currently between 20-60 percent complete under contracts totaling $3.7 million and are scheduled to open later this year. Each is a two-story, 1,155 square meter facility providing space for medical/dental examination and treatment, X-ray capabilities, vaccination, testing lab, pharmacy, and public education.

Too bad we don’t provide the same thing for our own people in New Orleans.

The Bush regime’s political aims of keeping its contractors busy while “spreading democracy” overseas and secondarily placating a hostile populace so they don’t shoot our young soldiers are also being carried out south of Baghdad in the Shiite holy city Najaf.

The Corps of Engineers proudly announced in June that a $15 million reconstruction of Najaf Teaching Hospital is coming along well.

Not only that, but nine hospitals in Iraq have already been renovated, and work is under way on 20 others. The Corps story adds:

The hospital’s outpatient clinic has seen approximately 200 patients daily since it opened last month. By fall [Dr. Safaah Al Ameed] expects 1,500 patients per day.

The Bush regime might as well resettle the poorest of the poor people in New Orleans in Iraq, which is apparently the only place it’s willing to spend money to build hospitals and clinics.

Another lesson learned: Maybe these neocons will shell out for basics like health care only if you snipe at them, blow them up, and otherwise try to make them get out of your country.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 19, 2005

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