Our friend Schroeder at People Get Ready rightly points out that in a city beset by so many problems at once, New Orleans residents have to choose their battles. Levees Not War focuses on infrastructure and coastal restoration, but we also urge our readers—in the Sunken City and beyond—to help save Charity Hospital, a towering embodiment of the social contract built with obsessive attention to detail by Huey Long in the 1930s, from an expensive, unnecessary, and largely destructive plan by the LSU Medical School and the Veterans Administration that would raze it and about 250 structures in the surrounding neighborhood (all on the National Historic Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s Most Endangered Places). (See Action Contact List below, and coverage by Squandered Heritage, NOLA-dishu, and Library Chronicles. And here you can see a short video by the Historical Louisiana Foundation showing how Charity can be modernized economically.)

This aptly named, long-standing institution is an indicator of how a society treats its less fortunate members—a sign of how civilized and merciful a society is. This hospital (nearly as old as the city itself) and the struggle to save it may represent a last vestige of the social contract between the people and the powerful. If we can save Big Charity, New Orleans will be a better place to live, and the victory will embolden us for further efforts (maybe that’s what the power-possessors don’t want).

Charity, on Tulane Avenue, an architecturally beautiful art deco landmark, is a teaching hospital for the LSU medical school and is owned by LSU. Until Hurricane Katrina damaged its bottom floors, it was the central trauma unit for hundreds of miles around. (Visitors to Our Fair City, Charity was where you could get stitched up if you got drunk and injured during Mardi Gras.) The hospital has been closed since Katrina in 2005, and the state has shown no interest in reopening it. Now what we seem to have instead—as the New York Times recently reported—is interest in plans by developers to raze Charity and about 250 buildings in the immediate vicinity and to construct new buildings that will house the Veterans Administration and LSU Medical School facilities—even though these worthy institutions could be served by already existing structures. In an economic recession, the most rational option is to restore an already sturdy and spacious hospital whose hurricane damage was relatively slight.

The LSU/VA plan for Charity is “disaster capitalism” pure and simple, and is perfectly in keeping with the city’s (HANO’s) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s refusal to restore the architecturally sound public housing units in New Orleans, but instead to spend unnecessarily high amounts on new constructions that lower-income residents cannot afford. (See “Homeless for the Holidays: Who Would Jesus Evict?” below [12/23/07].)

Charity Is as Old as New Orleans Itself

LNW_OldCharityCharity Hospital is a New Orleans institution that dates back to 1736 (the city was founded in 1718). (See Wikipedia entry here.) Since its inception, Charity has been an institution for the care of the indigent—its original name was L’Hôpital des Pauvres de la Charité, and before the present art deco monolith was built under the direction of Huey P. Long in the 1930s, the hospital was located in the Faubourg St. Mary in the Central Business District (see above). Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you” (Matt. 26:11), and this is particularly true in New Orleans, a city that is rich in so many ways (mainly immaterial). Some of us in this group have been helped by doctors and nurses at Charity at a time when we couldn’t afford health insurance and didn’t have the money to pay for treatment. We’ll always be thankful that there was Charity to turn to, and that is why we feel a personal obligation to make sure it survives to help others in need.

Those who would profit from the unnecessary LSU/VA development plan are not people who have ever needed Charity—they don’t know what they would be taking away from the less fortunate among us.

For the activists and ‘political caregivers’ among our readers who wish to help the city, we urge you to press hard on LSU to renovate and reopen Charity, and to contribute to the Foundation for Historical Louisiana to support its efforts to promote the restoration and reopening of this essential institution.

Click here to read the Historical Louisiana Foundation’s well-reasoned critique of the Veterans Administration / LSU plan and their proposed alternatives, along with the Foundation’s letters to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and to Louisiana legislators and LSU officials.

Action Contact List

LSU School of Medicine | Dean: Steve Nelson, M.D.: (504) 568-4007
LSU Administration Contact List

LSU System | President Dr. John Lombardi
LSU System Board of Supervisors Contact List

Office of the Mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin
[(Good luck.) Phone number for Mayor’s Office, anyone?]

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon H. Mansfield
Veterans Administration Press Release
VA and Louisiana State University Announce Site Selections for New Orleans Medical Center Projects

Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans

Foundation for Historical Louisiana: Phone 225-387-2464

National Trust for Historic Preservation | Phone 800-944-6847 and ask how you can help. National Trust president Richard Moe told the New York Times, “In selecting these sites, the V.A. and L.S.U. have made a serious error.”