An endorsement for the downtown LSU/VA hospital plan                 

New Orleans Magazine strongly endorses the proposal to build a combined Louisiana State University (LSU) and U.S. Veterans Medical Center facility in downtown New Orleans. We are somewhat amazed that there’s any question at all about a plan that could give the city a national-level training hospital with advanced equipment that could provide health care for so many of our citizens and can be an economic boon for downtown New Orleans while attracting highly paid professionals to our city.

SPEAKING OUT:A STRONG “YES”Where there have been questions about the proposal, they’ve been philosophical (the notion that health care vouchers are a better way to treat people than to have public hospitals) or geographic. The latter comes from Ochsner Foundation Hospital, which has offered the Veterans Administration (VA) a piece of land across from Ochsner’s main facility on Jefferson Highway.

To the first argument we answer that a public hospital is needed not just as a way of proving care but as a central campus for training, in this case for students from both LSU and Tulane medical schools. The combined effort could also have the resources for advanced medical equipment so that locals don’t have to go elsewhere for skilled treatment.

Ochsner’s offer may have been made partially to stave off those who wanted the VA to locate to another state. That includes a Florida congressman who argued that the New Orleans area was too hurricane prone. (Curious words for someone whose district includes Pensacola.) We have great respect for the Ochsner Foundation and for what it means to the community. We also appreciate the way that it has stepped in to take over some local hospitals that had been abandoned by out-of-town owners. We respectfully ask Ochsner, for the good of the city, to join and support the Canal Street LSU/VA complex and to perhaps be a participant. If this area can develop a reputation for medical excellence and if our teaching hospitals can supply a flow of well trained physicians, that would give a rocket-like boost to our recovery and would make New Orleans a city for healing and not just a city to be healed.

Key to this plan will be the decision by the VA in Washington on where to relocate the VA hospital that had been lost to Katrina. Of concern is Senator David Vitter’s expression of philosophical differences over the project though not outright opposition. Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal has taken no public position on the issue. Most other public officials, including Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin, strongly support the plan. Because this is also a veterans’ issue, the American Legion has become involved and has embraced the idea. The Republican administration in Washington needs to see the value of this project.

An LSU hospital could still be built without the VA partnership but that would diminish the project considerably. It might also play into the hands of those who want to see the LSU heath system relocated to Baton Rouge.

This proposal is more than just a good idea; it’s a necessity. New Orleans can become stronger with it; the city will remain weakened without it. Our message to all people of power at the state and federal level with good will for New Orleans is this: Make this happen.