The UMC Economic Impact Forum was divided into a three-part presentation. First, Dr. Fred Cerise, who developed the current plan for the LSU Medical Center, outlined the background of the project and addressed some of the arguments against his plan. Next, Mr. Tom Rish spoke about the project planning, including the overall goals of the project. Last, Skanska/MAPP, the construction management company, discussed their vision on managing and coordinating the construction of the center.
Dr. Cerise began by giving an overview of the center itself, emphasizing how the medical center will be supporting research and serve as an academic center for medical students. He began with this point to address the “bed” issue right off the bat, and he stated that the top academic medical centers have more than 700 beds to adequately support research and the academic needs of medical students. In order to attract the top students to New Orleans and the UMC, he argued, a top-of-the-line medical center needs to be built, and the 424-bed hospital is absolutely necessary. He seemed completely opposed to scaling down the project because it would lessen the academic appeal of the center and make it more difficult to recruit students nationwide. There was a proposal to have the center spread across several hospitals, which would have allowed the medical students the large number of beds without saturating the market by putting 400+ beds in the UMC building, but Dr. Cerise was opposed to this proposal because “a single model” is more attractive to students, rather than a complex of several hospitals spread throughout the city. Moving on from the bed issue, he then discussed the finances of the project, and stated that of the $1.2 billion necessary to finance the Center, approximately $900 million has already been earmarked for the project. He stated that they are anticipating more FEMA funds to finance the project, and that he will not “sacrifice the overall integrity and scale” of the Center just because the additional FEMA funds have not been confirmed yet. He ended by saying there is a demand for the 424-bed facility, both in the academic world and in New Orleans itself for the healthcare of its people.
Next, Mr. Tom Rish, Senior project manager, spoke on the more pragmatic details of the project. The only significant topics he mentioned in terms of the controversy was that one of the goals of the project is to “be a good neighbor,” and that they are committed to being “conscious of the needs of the surrounding community.” In his discussion of being a “good neighbor,” he mentioned that of the parcels in the footprint of the center, 181 have been cleared (either by being moved or by demolition), 55 are in the demolition process, and 6 are awaiting possession. The rest of his talk focused on the layout and construction of the building itself, go give the people in attendance a preview of what the center will look like when completed.
Lastly, there was a presentation by Skanska/MAPP, the two contractors in control of the construction of the project. The head of Skanksa, which manages construction, gave a pitch about their company and how they expect the construction of the project to unfold. This part of the talk was mainly targeted towards people in attendance interested in bidding on different aspects of the construction of the building, and after he finished his pitch, they briefly offered to answer any questions about the project. One man in the audience [apparently Rep. Cameron Henry] asked Dr. Cerise about the bed issue again. Earlier in the presentation, Dr. Cerise had mentioned several facilities that had introduced 700-bed hospitals, and the man in the audience asked if these centers were phased into their cities, or if all 700 beds were implemented at the same time, and if so, what kind of impact that had in those areas. Dr. Cerise avoided the question by talking again about how such a large facility is necessary to attract top medical students, and the head of the board of LSU Medical School then stood up and reiterated the same point, but in a slightly more antagonistic way. He then asked if he answered the man’s question, to which he replied, “No,” asked it again, and got essentially the same answer. At that point, the man in charge of the presentation said that it was 10:00, so we had run out of time for questions, and ended the presentation.
Overall, the presentation was very focused on limiting any negative attention that the project has received. The majority of it was spent on the Skanska/MAPP portion, which does not have anything to do with the either economic impact or the controversies associated with the project. Dr. Cerise’s talk focused on the advantages of building a top-tier medical center and glossed over the financial issues the undertaking has presented, and Mr. Rish’s presentation was primarily on the physical layout of the center and the amenities it will provide when it is finally constructed.