Charity Hospital Is “Next Victim” in Post-Katrina Pillaging of Poor Communities
Fight to save last N.O. public hospital mirrors struggle to halt sell-off of community resources
New Orleans – Community groups representing neighborhoods, African-Americans, low-income people, prisoners, disabled people, Katrina reconstruction workers, health care workers and public officials today defied the depopulation of New Orleans, bringing a crowd of marchers to demand that Charity Hospital be reopened by its managers, the LSU Medical System. Marchers also demanded that the state legislature take oversight of LSU’s decisions about the hospital when it meets next week.
Charity Hospital is the centerpiece of New Orleans health care, as the only public hospital in a city where nearly 761,000 pre-Katrina residents were uninsured. The number of uninsured now is estimated at over 1.3 million state-wide, which does not include those displaced to other states. Parts of the facility have been cleaned up since Hurricane Katrina, but LSU has not allowed health care providers to restaff it. By contrast, other hospitals managed by LSU – where free adult care is not provided – have reopened. The LSU, in conjunction with the state legislature, holds the power to decide the fate of healthcare in the city.
“People can’t return to New Orleans unless they have access to health care. If you’re saying only insured people will have access to health care, you’re saying poor and working class people won’t be allowed to return,” said Marcia Glass, of Doctors Without Hospitals. “Post-Katrina discrimination doesn’t get any more blatant than that.”
The absence of a public hospital also has severe implications for tens of thousands of low-income laborers working in reconstruction. Injuries, illnesses from substandard living conditions and poverty-linked medical problems are set to be major public health issues for New Orleans.
Charity Hospital’s fate mirrors a larger post-Katrina crisis in which public resources are being stripped from poor communities. Public school buildings owned by the city have been sold to the state, which has not restored schools. And St. Augustine’s Church, a crucial, historically-Black parish that has sustained the Treme neighborhood with food pantries and community programs, was reassigned to a neighboring parish last week. Parishioners are currently encamped there in defiance of the transfer.
“Closing Charity Hospital and closing St. Aug’s – it’s the same thing. The rich and powerful institutions that run these places are using the circumstance that people aren’t here, and are in crisis, to take land, buildings and resources from poor and working people,” said Jacques Morial, community servant and St. Aug parishioner.
State management of Charity Hospital was handed to LSU in the late 1990s. The state ended oversight of the hospital’s funds in 2003, allowing LSU to cut free clinics and implement means tests for care.
While in other states many of Charity Hospital’s patients would be eligible for Medicare, Louisiana denies Medicare coverage to most able-bodied adults, regardless of income.
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