An address long associated with fat steaks and power lunches is being turned into a place for better health and community access for New Orleanians of all walks of life.
Tulane University is transforming the former Ruth’s Chris Steak House Mid-City location into its Ruth U. Fertel Community Health Center, named for the late New Orleans native who began the now-national steakhouse chain. Expected to open mid-2012, the facility will offer primary, pediatric and geriatric care, mental and behavioral health services and more to patients regardless of insurance or the ability to pay.
“It’s about quality care, it’s in people’s neighborhoods and it’s convenient,” says Leah Berger, executive director of Tulane University’s office of community affairs and health policy. “Our mission is to make sure we’re available to everyone and anyone who needs care.”
The center will join a burgeoning network of similar community health care facilities that have emerged from the ruin of the city’s pre-Katrina health care network. Previously, uninsured people often sought emergency care at Charity Hospital and had little access to regular consultation with medical professionals at other times. With Charity closed since Hurricane Katrina, smaller, decentralized community centers have opened to fill the community need. Berger says these centers emphasize a more cost-effective approach with preventative care, regular checkups and screenings and health education.
There are now some 97 community health centers operating around town, including nine run by Tulane itself. The new facility for the Ruth’s Chris site will replace a center now run at Covenant House on North Rampart Street.
Health professionals here already serve some 1,200 patients per month, Berger says, and that number is expected to rise to at least 1,800 at the new, much larger facility in Mid-City.
In a way, the building’s transition to a Tulane health center is bringing Fertel’s legacy full circle. As a single mother, Fertel had worked as a lab technician at Tulane University School of Medicine before mortgaging her home in 1965 to buy the restaurant then called Chris’s Steak House. She added her first name to the restaurant’s marquee and the rest is history.