Thursday, September 29, 2011

Outside the Footprint

Exactly two years ago, I made my first post here at Inside the Footprint after my initial steps into the Footprint itself.  Nearly one thousand two hundred and twenty five posts emerged since that date.

And now, while there are still things left to cover - like the impending relocation of McDonogh No. 11 School - it's time to step out of the Footprint for good and end what has very clearly become...a counting of the costs.

I can only hope that the words and images recorded here, inadequate as they are, serve as some cautionary tale.

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Sandra Stokes

No other figure has done more than Sandra Stokes to galvanize the effort to re-use Charity Hospital and avoid the destruction of an historic New Orleans neighborhood. Her relentless pursuit of a better way forward has kept the issue alive for years. No other person has brought the same mixture of persistence, people skills, strategic thinking, and righteous indignation to the cause. A Board Member with the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, Sandra illustrates the New Orleans phenomenon of "preservationist as all-around good government watchdog" to a tee. Her work on making the RMJM Hillier/FHL report on adaptive reuse of Charity also provided the key point of argument about a true alternative to the destructive plan that has since extinguished a neighborhood.

Brad V: Very briefly, what got you involved in the Charity Hospital/LSU/VA fight at the beginning?

Sandra S: I got involved when our organization, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, was charged by the Legislature with conducting a feasibility study on reusing Charity Hospital.

It was a unanimous vote of the Legislature. I was naive back then and believed that they really wanted this study to reuse Charity. Little did I was a done deal - and they never really wanted it at all.

Brad V: What really got you involved? What made you decide to take up this challenge to the extent that you have?

Sandra S: Up until now, I believed in justice. I believed in fairness and the goodness of people. And, the more I heard the stories of the doctors, the military cleanup, these military men who came in and did what they were supposed to do. They said this was the least damaged place. It would have been cherished in any other country. But in Louisiana, they shuttered it and left it for naught.

I mean, it was cleaned up and ready to go. Ready to receive patients. And through this hoax, they've shut it all down. And left people without healthcare for, now, six years.

Brad V: So, at this point, we're looking at a largely destroyed site here at the UMC. And behind us, the VA site has been almost entirely cleared. What are your thoughts about this whole affair at this point in time?

Sandra S: I still can't believe it's gotten to this point. It still brings me to tears to be out here. I can't believe people have lost their homes and their community. People have lost their lives without healthcare. We're killing off downtown New Orleans. We've killed off a neighborhood. And we still don't have the money to rebuild. It's just injustice at every level. And it's about a bad plan that some people came up with and pushed through at all costs, no matter what the logic, no matter what the reasoning.

And for me, it's also a loss of innocence. I did believe in justice. I did believe that the right thing - and common sense - would prevail. And it hasn't. It's just insane.

It's the idea that you had all these building downtown that you haven't reused. You could've had the jobs back. You could've had the buildings reused. You could've had the vital resources of New Orleans intact.

The you come into a neighborhood and you take down all the houses. You've destroyed the community - and taken that resource away. You've taken healthcare away, you've taken the teaching hospital away. This all could have been stopped. This all could have been fixed. We could have had a hospital in three years - a hospital open now.

Instead, we have a destroyed landscape. We've moved people out of houses rebuilt with federal money. We don't have the jobs, we don't have the healthcare, the teaching hospital. And they don't even have the money to build the hospital.

It's insane.

A different kind of portrait

I wouldn't classify Alex Glustrom as one of the Stalwarts.  His role in the Footprint and the Charity Hospital controversy has been one of documentation rather than advocacy.  But he deserves mention because he has been onhand, for years now, at many of the crucial moments, video camera in hand.

Brad V:  How did you get involved in covering the LSU/VA/Charity controversy?

Alex G:  I first got involved when I was in college at Tulane University.  I've always loved film and documentaries.  I wanted to make a documentary, and my first documentary idea was to make an overarching film about all of the changes in post-Katrina New Orleans.  It was going to be about the changes in the schools, the public houses, the healthcare.  And I just thought I could make this overarching documentary - that would have been 10 hours long - to even begin to cover these issues.  

I was filming at a United Nations fact-finding mission on adequate housing, and they were going all over the city talking with former public housing residents, current public housing residents - and talking with current homeowners, lessees, and business owners in the footprints of the hospitals.  It was basically a mission on people being forced out of their homes.

That's when the people from Save Charity Hospital (Jonah Evans and Eli Ackerman) made a presentation to the United Nation officials.  And I listened to the presentation, and I got to know some of the people involved.  So I began to film some of the stuff they were doing, their efforts to reopen Charity Hospital and save the neighborhood.  I tried to include Charity Hospital and the neighborhood into the documentary.  But then, as time went on, I realized I needed to re-focus the documentary.  It would have been too long.

So, I started focusing on Charity Hospital and on the neighborhood.  There was a lot of misinformation out there - on both sides - about what was going on, the hospital, the homeowners.  For me, doing my research -and I did a lot of research - it seemed difficult for me to come to the truth.  So, I felt that making a documentary that put the facts out there was key.  I really wanted to show both sides.  I didn't want to push an opinion or sway the facts.  So, I've been trying to interview both sides.

I've been trying to make a documentary that just puts the facts out there.  That shows the potential for the hospital - but also what was sacrificed to get to it, the process that it took to get to this point, the setbacks, the sacrifices.  And really, just an accurate depiction of what's happened over the past six years.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Jacques Morial

*Photo courtesy of Ms. Sandra Stokes

For years, Jacques Morial has been a key figure pointing out the financial and healthcare-related flaws in the plans for replacing Charity Hospital and the existing VA Hospital building.

Whether it was observing and analyzing the machinations of the UMC Board, reading the legislative tea leaves, taking arguments to the airwaves, or speaking at rallies about the issues that mattered, he was there and in the mix, a crucial part of the effort.

Portraits of the Stalwarts: The Anonymous

Many individuals, due to their positions within various institutions, due to various threats or coercion, were unable to advocate publicly for a better way in the LSU/VA/Charity affair.

Nevertheless, numerous anonymous individuals made great contributions - some of them for years - to the fight.  They know who they are.  Many of them are still at it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

From Above

Annihilate, verb \ə-ˈnī-ə-ˌlāt\

"to cause to cease to exist"

A helicopter flight reveals the tragic scene in New Orleans, where hundreds of structures - and hundreds of people, along with dozens of businesses - have been carved out of the cityscape.

In the first photo, the wreckage of the recently occupied Blood Center facility lies strewn in the upper left corner of the shot.  Nine houses sit in a staging area for theoretical moves off the site.  McDonogh No. 11 School, too, remains.  Four additional houses, near the bottom of the shot, are to be moved off, also in theory, at some future date.  Note, too, that the high voltage power line still crosses the site and one lonely tree is cordoned off with orange fencing.

The second photo shows the former Grand Palace Hotel and the large existing parking structure behind it.  They are scheduled to be demolished in about November.

The final photo shows the full extent of the loss in both the VA and UMC footprints - the vast, unnecessary emptiness.

*All photos in this post courtesy of Ms. Sandra Stokes.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Janet Hayes

Ms. Janet has been a tireless, self-sacrificing part of the effort to engage the community on the Charity Hospital issue, then the LSU/VA issue, and most recently - you may have seen her, a door-to-door Paul Revere on foot - the encroachment of BioDistrict New Orleans.

Brad V:  What got you involved with the Charity Hospital/LSU/VA issue?

Janet H:  When my friend Kane Masaile died because Charity Hospital was closed and she had to go to Tulane Hospital and ended up in OPP in five point restraints in their psychiatric unit...a friend of mine emailed me to tell me that there was a meeting going on about Charity Hospital - and had it been open, Kane probably would have been alive.  And it was probably something I'd be interested in.

So I went to the first meeting at CC's on Esplanade.  Derrick Morrison and Brad Ott were chairing the meeting. Jacques Morial was there and a few other people.  And it was my first taste of New Orleans injustice as far as it goes with healthcare issues.  And that's what got me involved.  From there it was just natural for me to stay involved.

Brad V:  And what do you think, at this stage in the game, about the LSU/VA project, specifically the impact on the neighborhoods?

Janet H:  I think it's a horrible injustice that's been done to people, to residents that live in New Orleans - that came back to rebuild the city, to rebuild their houses.  They used Road Home money and then had a moratorium imposed on them where they couldn't rebuild.  And there are a number of different scandals going on - that I see as landgrabs by politicians and real estate developers who have only money and power to gain - as opposed to the residents who are lacking in healthcare, who don't have the power to fight these people with all the resources.

Brad V:  What do you think is the overall lesson that you want people to take away from this whole thing?

Janet H:  BE VIGILANT.  Stay alert.  Pay attention to flyers (laughing)- when someone comes to your door with a flyer, read it.  Because generally, they're not doing it for nothing, they're doing it because they want you to know something.  Either it's going to be people that are fighting for you or it's going to be people that are fighting against you.  So pay attention to flyers.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: K. Brad Ott


Brad Ott has been involved in the healthcare arena in Louisiana for years.  He has long known of the "centrality and cachet of Charity Hospital" in the Louisiana health system.  After Hurricane Katrina, he went around to field hospitals set up in tents and other locations in New Orleans - even as Charity was closed by the state - and ended up heading to testify in Baton Rouge.

Brad V:  As one of the leaders of the Committee to Reopen Charity, how did you get involved with the Charity Hospital fight?

Brad O:  Charity Hospital saved my life.  I was a patient at Charity.  I got involved because we needed the healthcare; people have died because Charity Hospital was closed.  It was closed even though Interim (University) was more damaged.  It was closed despite a case that I found that says legislative approval is needed before a hospital can be closed.

Brad V:  Where do things stand today, from your perspective?

Brad O:  There needs to be an investigation if all original services offered at Charity are not restored in the UMC.  It'll be ten frickin' years before we have full healthcare restored because the Charity option was dismissed.  Governor Jindal is not telling anyone, but 6-7 charity hospitals around the state will be on the chopping block - threatened with closure because of the LSU/VA project.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Bill Borah

Brad V: Briefly, back when you first decided to get involved in this particular fight (Charity Hospital/LSU/VA), what got you involved in the issue?

Bill B: Well, I was a latecomer to the hospital controversy. After Katrina, I and others were very much involved in trying to change the City Charter so the city would be required to do a plan for its future physical development - called the Master Plan - that would have the force of law (meaning citizen-based, everyone would have to follow it). And what happened, unfortunately, was that Mayor Nagin and his recovery czar, Ed Blakely, told Goody Clancey, the firm that was to do the Master Plan, that they were not permitted to study the hospital situation. So here we had the biggest economic health decision that this city will make in the next 10 or 15 years...excluded from the Master Plan planning process.

It was the way that New Orleans and Louisiana traditionally planned - top down, ad hoc, and ultimately corrupt. And that's how I happened to get involved. Because I was outraged by the fact that the LSU and VA hospitals were excluded planning process.

And, of course, when I got in it and saw how terrible it was - the fact that they were wiping out 165 historic buildings and destroying a New Orleans neighborhood that had every possibility of coming back and being viable - and that could satisfy the residential and commercial needs that two new hospitals would have. And they would not consider adaptively reusing Charity Hospital.

That's how I got involved. And then of course I read FHL's (Sandra Stokes) report and was incredibly impressed by it, done by an extraordinary architecture firm with a health/preservation background. It said that you could re-do Charity, get back in it 3 years faster, 34% cheaper. That's why I'm here.

Brad V: And what do you think about the entire LSU/VA situation at this point, seeing as things have changed significantly since you got involved?

Bill B: I'm incredibly depressed by it. I think it's an absolutely outrageous decision by the city, the state, and, of course, the federal government. It's urban renewal in its worst sense. It's from back in the 50s and 60s. It's the kind of thing that this country said it was getting away from. And, quite frankly, that this administration - namely, the Obama administration - said they were moving away from. Quite the contrary. It's an absolute disaster. Now, of course, people are trying to make the best of it. It's a very sad time.

I got involved in the Riverfront Expressway back in the 60s. We were trying to stop the interstate highway going through the French Quarter. We were successful. But in terms of decision-making and the ad hoc, dysfunctional system that I grew up continues to this day. And all the hopes and dreams we had after Katrina...there were some things done that were positive...but the city and state, looks like it's reverting to the way it was before Katrina. And of course the federal government is cooperating with the local politicians...and you know, we're at war. As we've always been, if you believe in historic preservation and decent planning and trying to preserve the unique character of the city. And at the same time, God knows, it really needed development. Everyone supports the hospitals. But, God, this is not the way you do this stuff.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Martha Owen

Brad V: How did you get involved in the Charity Hospital fight?

Martha O: It was one of my customers. An LSU representative had come on her property and flung his finger in her face and said "You're going to have to move." And I had no idea that that was the way the business was going to be conducted. I mean, the only way that I would describe it is: disgraceful. It was outrageous. Now it's outrageous and disgraceful.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Derrick Morrison

Brad V:  Originally, how did you come to be involved in the Charity Hospital/LSU/VA fight?

Derrick M:  I got involved because I felt that it would be easier to get Charity open after Katrina than some of the other struggles going on - because it had been cleaned out, because it had basically been readied for operation, and because of the fact that, initially, the City Council and the state legislature were asking that Charity were asking for it to be re-opened on a temporary basis.  So it seemed like it would be easy to get Charity re-opened.  But as it turns out, it was not that easy.  It's gonna take...a lot more effort to get Charity re-opened.

Brad V:  At this point - I know you've been very active in the neighborhood and in the adjoining neighborhood - what do you think of the state of affairs of the LSU/VA project today?

Derrick M:  Well the LSU/VA project, right now, basically...the campaign right now is for justice for the people who were given unfair property appraisals by the LSU Board of Supervisors - to get LSU to fork over some more money for them.  Also, to get the VA to do right by the adjacent neighborhood - Cleveland Avenue, Palmyra Street.  Also, the effort to save McDonogh No. 11 School is uppermost in my mind.  It's clear that LSU doesn't know how big this project is going to be.  The whole effort now should be to save the school in light of the fact that LSU's plans are probably going to be changed.  And even if they aren't changed, LSU is still only using half the area - so the school should be saved.  The big thing now is to force LSU to redesign its design to save McDonogh No. 11 School.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Portraits of the Stalwarts: Mary Howell

Mary Howell, whose law office stands just a block outside the VA Footprint, was the chief figure who led to my involvement in the LSU/VA issue, drawing me into the broader effort several months after I began this blog.

Mary, who came to know the residents of the VA Footprint especially well after the storm, gave up a great deal of her time, effort, and more to stand up against the "bullying" that was so deeply interwoven into the push to destroy the VA Footprint neighborhood.  She was also the prime mover on the effort to save the VA houses from demolition.  Regardless of how the effort turned out due to other actors, it cannot be denied that 79 structures were ultimately relocated, avoiding total demolition and marking a sudden, major change in events in the hospitals saga.  Mary was also a major presence at many of the VA neighborhood meetings, a relentless advocate for the residents being negatively affected by the project.

BV:  What, originally, got you involved in the Charity Hospital/LSU/VA fight?

MH:   I went to a neighborhood meeting, and I walked into that meeting.  It was held in this sort of gutted out building in the neighborhood.  And I looked around the room.  And it was filled with predominantly African American, working people, but it was a really diverse group of people.  Homeowners, people who struggled to come back, people who struggled to rebuild their homes, people who had formed a really deep community and fellowship - actually unlike anything that existed before the storm.  The storm really brought this neighborhood together in a powerful, transformative way. 

As I was listening to what was being said about what was getting ready to happen here...I realized they were all going to be annihilated.  And that people just really didn't understand what was about to happen.  The bulldozers were literally coming through.  All these promises were being made about "what a nice process this is going to be" and "how fairly everyone was going to be treated" and I looked around.  Many of the people in the room were older - there was a mix of people, including several newcomers - but I looked around at the longtimers who had been here and really struggled hard to come back.  A number of them were tired, they were elderly.  And I thought, "Oh my god."  This is like the kiss of death.  They're not just losing their homes, their losing their neighborhood, their community, their safety net, their network - everything.  

I've often said, if I could have just sneaked out of there - and pretended that I hadn't seen this, hadn't realized what was happening here - it would have been a relief.  Because I went down a major rabbit hole for about three years.  I was rebuilding and trying to come back at the same time.

It was awful, what happened here.  It was as ugly...a bullying kind of power I've ever seen.  And it remains that way.

BV:  What do you think of the current state of affairs of the LSU/VA project?

MH:  Oh, it's ridiculous.  It's terrible.  I can count on my hands, my fingers, the number of deaths that I believe are a direct result of the closing of Charity Hospital.  And the financial waste of all of this is extraordinary.  It's mind-boggling, especially given this economy.  But the callous disregard of people's need for quality healthcare and particularly in the mental health area...shutting down that third floor of Charity Hospital.  We've had terrible misfortune, a number of deaths as a direct result of that.  

The terrible thing about it is that many of the people advocating for this have been doing it under the guise of bringing better healthcare to this city.  It's the idea that we'll burn down the village to save the village.  They've completely destroyed a community, they've destroyed lives.  

You know, the Hippocratic Oath...that first line: First, do no harm - ?  Massive harm has been done here in the name of promoting good healthcare.  And it's a lie.  This has never been about healthcare and the needs of the community, about what's right or just.  It's always been about greed, about money, about power.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

And so it goes

The done deal gets done.

Stalwarts: Portraits of the Good Guys

Later today or tomorrow, I'll be launching a series of posts here at Inside the Footprint.

The series, built on photos and quotes, focuses on the individuals who've lead the effort to engage, oppose, and critique the LSU/VA hospitals project - and who've long called for the retrofit of the existing Charity Hospital as a far less damaging alternative. 

Each person in the series has given up a great deal of time, energy, and resources in persistent pursuit of what they believe is right.  They deserve some recognition.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

Magical: Debt disappears, annual state subsidies shrink, and hundreds of Medicare patients appear

+ The UMC business plan presented yesterday by Verite

+ Times-Picayune piece that notes, rather tellingly:

"When the University Medical Center governing board committed earlier this summer to hiring two consulting firms to craft a new business plan for a Charity Hospital successor, Gov. Bobby Jindal hailed the move and encouraged the board not to chain itself to the model long sought by the Louisiana State University System. UMC Board Chairman Bobby Yarborough, a Jindal appointee, said "all options" would be on the table.

When Verite Healthcare Consulting, aided by Kaufman, Hall & Associates,presents its recommendations today at a 1 p.m. meeting of the UMC board, analysts will advocate a facility of essentially the same size and scope as has been on the table for several years."

+ Not everyone bought it:

Janet Hayes of New Orleans accused the board of adopting a "damn-the-consequences attitude."
"This meeting is rigged and predetermined," said Brad Ott, of the Save Charity Hospital organization.

+ No really, not everyone bought what the UMC Board was selling:

"A business plan that has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese and if you're willing to face the public and face the pages of history go on and approve this plan,” said Resident Jacques Morial who has questioned the project for years.

In the end the board approved the new business plan, even as opponents maintain Charity Hospital can be renovated of its Katrina damage.


"It's absolutely criminal. It could have been faster, cheaper,” stated Stokes.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

From the plan presented today at the UMC Board meeting

There's some blah blah blah in the report from Verite...

"Reuse of the Charity Hospital facility. The UMCMC Board is not responsible for and has no authority over the disposition of Charity Hospital. The state Office of Facility Planning and Control has responsibility for administration of design and construction for capital projects for the State of Louisiana. That office has considered alternatives and options for the project. With expected federal funding, options were required to be considered as part of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), 16 U.S. C. Section 4701, and 36 CFR Part 800 (section 106). Options were considered under the “Programmatic Agreement among the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the City of New Orleans, the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Officer, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Regarding the Funding to Repair or Replace Healthcare Facilities Comprising the VA Medical Center and the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans.” That Agreement specified project alternatives for the repair or replacement of the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans."

The UMC Board, if it was doing its job and being responsible to the people of Louisiana, most certainly would have looked at the Charity option because of the significant time and cost savings involved in that option.

And then there's some interesting items to note in the excerpt:

"The options were carefully weighed by the federal government and the state. Multiple public meetings were held. The result of the process yielded a determination that the most appropriate option was the relocation to a new site with the construction of new facilities. Revisiting other options may render the entire process null, requiring further analysis to comply with Section 106.

Whether or not reusing Charity Hospital is in the UMCMC Board’s purview, the Board has concluded that building a new University Medical Center is by far the preferred alternative."

The options were weighed carefully?  No - the state/LSU simply decided it wanted a new hospital and shuttered a barely damaged hospital building.  The VA has been using several portions of the VA building that was supposedly beyond hope.

Multiple public meetings were, functionally, not held.  Only one public meeting actually occurred - the state's own records show that no members of the public showed up at the ostensible second and third public meetings because the state and Jacobs changed the means of notifying consulting parties and did not do anything resembling adequate outreach and notification.

Also, the process "yielded a determination" that a new hospital was necessary?  In every aspect of the process where the public did manage to wiggle in, it expressed in no uncertain terms that it wanted Charity Hospital reused.  The overwhelming majority of public comment and consulting party comment pushed for that option.  So it's entirely absurd to say that the process "yielded a determination" to the contrary.  The passive and evasive language employed in the excerpt is a good sign that the state is obfuscating.

Finally, what "other options" would render the entire process null?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

More questions than answers

The never-ending UMC financing saga continues.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Uh oh...River Birch crops up again

Now, the feds are zooming in on a key media figure here in New Orleans...with monetary connections to the landfill.

You'll recall that I've already pointed out that at least some of the contaminated soil/underground tanks from the VA Footprint went to River Birch.

Here's the broad question that must be asked and answered: Where did all of the many tons of debris from the VA and LSU site demolitions end up?  Who got paid to take all of that debris that would not have been generated if Charity and the existing VA hospital had been retrofitted instead?

UMC Board Meeting - September 8, 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Where is all that fill coming from?

I mentioned a bit about the massive amount of surcharging fill that will be used in the VA Footprint.

But what about the truckloads of fill that was coming into the LSU Footprint today? Where is it coming from?  And, more importantly, who's getting paid to provide all that fill...that wouldn't have been needed if Charity had been retrofitted to house the UMC?

"537 historic artifacts...included a number of artifacts dated to the French and Spanish colonial periods (ca. 1720-1780)"

After another public records request, we've begun to sift through the archaeological reports that continue to be generated in the VA and LSU footprints.  While several individuals requested the archaeological reports for months at the VA neighborhood meetings, it wasn't until now that we've been able to access them.

The quote in the title comes from the "Management Summary" for the VA Footprint, and it pertains specifically to the plot of land that was once 219 S. Miro - the site that hosted the S.W. Green Mansion.

If you zoom in on the photo above, you'll see, out on the prairie that has replaced the former neighborhood in the VA Footprint, a number of dig sites in "Block 551" - the area that contains the 219 S. Miro archaeological deposits.

There are all kinds of interesting things in the archaeological reports.  And I'm going to do my best to post portions of them here before the VA site gets "surcharged" with about 7 feet of fill...and as the UMC site gets torn apart.  One word that shows up frequently in the latest VAMC archaeological diggings (from a report issued in July 2011)..."bone":

The UMC site records, as of as recent as August, show numerous references to "faunal remains."