More Blues in New Orleans


Congress is about to swamp plans for new hospitals downtown.

Poor New Orleans, poor Iraq vets. Trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina, the city is trying to build a medical complex downtown that includes the fabled Charity Hospital and a VA hospital, but Congress took a step backwards yesterday on the plan.

And wouldn’t you know — the only House member standing up for the city during a hearing yesterday in D.C. was a guy with no cred, William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat indicted on corruption charges.

Charity Hospital, where hundreds of patients and doctors were trapped by Hurricane Katrina for nearly a week without power, water, or food.

The city wants a rebuilt hospital complex to help revitalize its downtown. Care of New Orleans’ people is also a consideration. But others want the hospital complex, which would include a VA hospital that was destroyed during Katrina, moved to the suburbs.

This is more than the continuous whitening strikes raining down on New Orleans. Some in Congress want the VA hospital put in Pensacola, Florida. Congressman Bill Miller from that area argues that New Orleans is too prone to flooding. He doesn’t mention that Pensacola was ravaged by two hurricanes in 2004.

Some representatives of veterans have mixed feelings about putting a new VA hospital in downtown New Orleans. But one is desperately needed somewhere. As Kate Moran reports this morning on the excellent Times-Picayune site,

One veteran, Henry Cook, the national vice commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, reminded the panel that the hospital proposal should be first and foremost for the benefit of veterans. He said other considerations about the future of downtown should be ancillary.

“This is not about jobs. It is not about downtown. It is not about Tulane, LSU or public hospitals,” Cook said. “It is about veterans.”

Cook told the panel that veterans have had to travel all over the South to receive health care since the old hospital closed after Hurricane Katrina. He said this has been particularly distressing to veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, including one soldier who recently returned from the Iraq war and committed suicide after he had to wait six weeks for an appointment at a clinic.

“We cannot afford another death like that,” Cook said.

We can’t afford much else than the war in Iraq, thanks to our unjustified invasion four long years ago.

A far more serious case of corruption than the William Jefferson case is that the U.S. Corps of Engineers was busy building dams, levees, hospitals, and health clinics in Iraq when Katrina ravaged New Orleans in the summer of 2005.

The city became a charity case, and its Charity Hospital, founded 250 years ago, was the exemplar, a huge hospital already crumbling when Katrina hit. Read Clayton James Cubitt‘s elegy from October 2005:

Charity Hospital loomed large as a horror house for my family. They lost themselves there, literally. Eyes. Teeth. Limbs. Lives. All butchered, then forgotten about. Your cat or dog, First World America, was getting better health care than the poor wretched humans forced to decide between nothing, and Charity. And that was their only choice.

It’s always been that way down here. Charity Hospital was founded over 250 years ago, which makes it about the oldest hospital in America. It was wretched from the start, because, after all, you get what you pay for, and this was literally a “Hospital for the Poor.”

And a horror house during Katrina: Hundreds of patients, along with doctors and staff, were trapped by Katrina’s floodwaters for nearly a week with no food, power, or water. Patients who died were moved into stairwells. Other hospitals were evacuated before rescuers focused on Charity.

Bush Beat reader Jeffrey Schwartz up at MIT, who tipped me off to this latest indignity to New Orleans, neatly sums up the political realities of the current situation:

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, the federal government appropriated $600M to build a new VA hospital, but the hospital has now become a political football . . .

Despite the fact that every public, decision-making entity in the state has come out in favor of the VA to build a joint hospital with the fabled Charity — from the LSU and Tulane medical schools, to the state legislature, the Governor, the Mayor, the Regional Planning Commission, and the City Planning Commission — Republican senator David Vitter has unilaterally acted to push the VA hospital out to suburban Jefferson Parish. A VA hospital on the suburban campus of a private medical clinic is an ideologically driven push in favor not of patients, veterans, or Katrina-affected communities, but for the private hospital and health insurance companies in the state.