New Orleans rally: Save Charity Hospital

Two hundred doctors, other health care workers, patients and “Charity babies” — New Orleans residents born at the city’s Charity Hospital — rallied March 25, demanding that President Bush, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and the Louisiana state Legislature “repair, re-open, and fund” the hospital.

Charity, New Orleans’ public hospital, has a 275-year history of treating patients regardless of their ability to pay — the only local hospital whose mission is explicitly to treat all. It is also the city’s only major trauma center. A teaching hospital, it’s where you want to be if you have a serious or rare condition.

But Charity has been closed since shortly after Hurricane Katrina and the plans are to raze it, collect millions in federal dollars and replace it with a new hospital with a private-public patient mix. Many believe Katrina is being used as an excuse to further privatize health care in New Orleans, using federal money to do the job and abandoning the poor in the process.

Charity is now closed, while a clinic operates in a Lord & Taylor store, reportedly above a water-filled basement.

Before Katrina, 62 percent of New Orleans residents got their health care at Charity — it was their only hope. Now the uninsured have nowhere to go. Even if the new hospital does, in fact, treat the poor, it will take seven years to build. Charity doctor James Moises said the private sector has done all it can, and it’s time to bring public health care back to New Orleans.

Protesters tied the closing of Charity to the failure to rebuild and reopen public housing in New Orleans. One “Charity baby” said, “We are not post-Katrina. We’re still living it.” Another elderly demonstrator vowed, “I’ll get out [of] this wheelchair to fight if I have to.”

The rally, organized by Doctors Without Hospitals and the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition, called for an unbiased analysis of the hospital building by an independent team of architects, and a public forum on how health care services should be provided to the poor in New Orleans. The event showed that, while the federal government and state Legislature might say no to restoring infrastructure and necessary services for evacuees to return to New Orleans, the people are fighting back.