Possible layouts emerge for Charity Hospital redevelopment

It’s ironic that the LSU Board of Supervisors is celebrating with high-fives a lease agreement for the redevelopment of Charity Hospital, given that for years LSU argued the building was too “damaged” to be reused.

Isn’t that what the special FEMA arbitration panel found — the one that awarded millions in federal dollars for the UMC and VA projects? It makes no sense, unless powerful government and private actors are having their cake and eating it too.

The intentional exclusion of residents of New Orleans and state taxpayers from any public process in which to determine the highest and best adaptive reuse for Charity Hospital, if not illegal, lacks simple common decency. To continue to move forward without a transparent full public process is insulting, disrespectful and garners cynicism and distrust.

The state and LSU closed Charity Hospital, despite the well-known fact that it was ready to reopen just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans continues to take casualties as a result. Scores of long-term public psychiatric beds were eliminated. The city was thrust into a mental health crisis that has become the responsibility of law enforcement and the courts. Yet the criminal justice system has neither the facility nor expertise to care for people with mental illness.

The state and LSU are squandering a perfect redemption opportunity to pair the empty space with the crisis the state created. Residents voiced support for a state-of-the-art mental health care and research center of excellence — in the true spirit of Charity — at the Spirit of Charity strategic planning meetings organized by the Greater New Orleans Foundation in 2018. The LSU Board of Supervisors did not take those comments into consideration when making a decision on the lease agreement, likely because they were not made aware of them.

There is nothing innovative about turning old buildings into new apartments, yet that is all that this board seems to know how to do. The insanity continues by moving to create a currently nonexistent neighborhood that will reject mental health facilities because of NIMBYism. Where is the NIMBYism for outdoor asylums? Why would property owners prefer that people who need psychiatric care continue dying on the sidewalk outside their front gates rather than receiving it at a mental health center?

It is the LSU board’s fiscal responsibility to replace fully programs and services Charity Hospital provided. I ask, if not Charity then where? Over and over again serious mental illness experts say “we need a building.”

Janet Hays

president, Healing Minds NOLA

New Orleans