Waiting for Charity in New Orleans

Charity Hospital was the go-to medical facility for the city’s poor and now, when they need it most, it’s gone.

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The state has set aside $300 million for the LSU project, about a quarter of the lowest projected costs. The state is waiting and hoping for FEMA to kick in the $492 million it says the federal agency owes for Katrina damages. But FEMA’s position is that Charity did not suffer that kind of damage—a position with which many residents and community advocates agree with. FEMA will only commit to $150 million for the project. President Obama has only said that he supports a "major medical complex in downtown New Orleans." But even if FEMA gave the state what it’s asking for, that would leave roughly $400 million left on the tab. While the state and LSU wrangles over plans, poor patients continue to live with illness, much of it from the toxic legacy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which spread arsenic, lead and contaminated sediments all over the city's soils and water sources.

A recent Chinese drywall exposure outbreak in city housing has added to health risks. And for a city that is reeling from a Katrina-depleted housing stock, the last thing it needs is a plan for a hospital that would bulldoze even more houses. There are many arguments for building a brand new hospital, but newer doesn't always mean better. On the fourth anniversary of Katrina, New Orleans can ill-afford to wait longer for a new hospital.

Brentin Mock is a regular contributor to The Root.