Posts Tagged ‘Charity Hospital’

Doctor is timely reminder of New Orleans poor

A year ago this week I was in New Orleans gutting flooded homes with a volunteer team from Portland. I had forgotten about this personal anniversary until this afternoon when I met a physician. She told me she has been practicing for four years in Portland. Before Portland? New Orleans, she said. Pre-Katrina she had worked in the emergency room of Charity Hospital. For eight years. My eyes widened. “Wow, you were on the front lines, weren’t you,” I said.

Here’s how author Jed Horne describes Charity in “Breach of Faith,” his powerful recounting of New Orleans during the storm and its aftermath:

New Orleans had been doing its birthing and dying at Charity, its ailing and its mending, nonstop mostly on the government’s dime, for about as long as the older patient’s had been alive. The mayor had been born in Charity, though one could confidently assume that he would not now seek its services except in the direst of emergency. The violence in New Orleans’s back streets had made its trauma center and emergency rooms as skilled as any in the South, and a mecca for interns with the gumption to endure permanent battlefield conditions.

I can’t fathom how this doctor I met worked there for eight years. She actually spoke fondly of her experience.

Today, Charity is closed, a victim of the hurricane and bureaucrats’ decisions. In addition to serving the largest number of indigent patients in the city, Charity was a teaching hospital. Officials at Louisiana State University plan to keep it closed and build a new teaching clinic in the city, but it won’t be open until at least 2012. A group of former patients have filed a lawsuit to “in an attempt to force the state to reopen Charity Hospital or make other provisions for thousands of people whose health has deteriorated without ready access to free medical care.”

That Charity will not reopen probably surprises no one in New Orleans. This was the hospital that was falsely reported by CNN to have been evacuated completely by Wednesday, two days after the hurricane hit. According to Horne,

(T)he reality was that twelve hundred staff and patients were still trapped in Charity, with diminishing supplies of food, water, and medicine…As the army kept Charity waiting until Thursday, helicopters were evacuating critically ill patients from Tulane University Medical Center, the private hospital right across the street.

On the medical, housing and just about any other front you want to consider in New Orleans today, the poor remain in dire straits. There are about 12,000 homeless in the city, double the number before the storm.

Meanwhile, our president in tonight’s state of the union address is supposed to announce a conference to be held in New Orleans. He wants the meeting to show “how the ‘great American city’ is rebounding.”

This from the president who could muster not a single reference to the plight of New Orleans in his address a year ago. New Orleans may be rebounding — for some — but don’t think for a moment that a positive spin will help those without a home or health care in the Big Easy sleep better tonight.

UPDATE: The president’s remarks were applauded by business leaders in New Orleans.