Can you have a good hospital these days without curb appeal? Manifestly not, it seems, as private-sector hospitals have competed for patients with elaborately decorated and redesigned buildings and furnishings akin to those in hotels. In the 1930s, maybe the old Charity Hospital had that same modernist feel, but now it is shuttered and a high-tech version of the old state hospital will open in Mid-City on Aug. 1.
The artwork and the new-car feel may make patients feel better — “a good healing environment” is how one executive put it — but the new facility is also about competing for insured patients whom the state, LSU and LCMC Health hope to attract.
“We’re going to attract the best and train the best,” said Scott Landry, senior vice president of facilities and support services for LCMC Health, which will manage the hospital.
The new hospital cannot help but improve the reputation of the city. This is another comeback institution, and it’s certainly a far cry from the cramped temporary quarters where LSU has treated patients since Hurricane Katrina. Patients will find a lot to like.
But it’s also important to remember that in a public-private partnership, the state continues to be the principal payer in making patient care available, whether one has insurance or not. The new hospital faced a serious roadblock this year, not from construction issues or staffing but from the State Capitol’s budget crisis.
Eventually, the lawmakers and the governor provided funding for the LCMC Health partnership and others across the state. That means the new $1.1 billion University Medical Center can open on time, yet it underscores the need for the public-private partnership to hold down costs and use the new curb appeal to attract paying patients beyond the uninsured and those on Medicaid. That program of basic insurance for the poor also requires a large appropriation from the state budget.
This is the sort of complexity that must be carefully watched, not only out of concern for the taxpayers’ dimes but for the long-term commitment that such an important facility needs. We do not know if New Orleans can be competitive for the business of cutting-edge medicine that has been so successful in Houston and in Birmingham, Alabama. The state’s investment in the new public-private partnership is important, but the state also must foster research and innovation, and in the past few years, the governor and Legislature cut those kinds of dollars to pay for short-term gratification of special interests.
We cannot hope to make the most of this new edifice unless behind it we invest properly in research and development. It is a commitment to science and technology that will make curb appeal into more than its initial attraction to new medical consumers, but also a source of economic benefits that we cannot today quantify but definitely want to see in Mid-City.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly described the costs and management structure of the new University Medical Center. The Advocate regrets the errors.