Solving New Orleans health care crisis

The post-Katrina catastrophe in New Orleans has ripped the mask off the ruling class. Unlike a festive Mardi Gras unmasking, the greed, racism, arrogance and brutality of the Bush administration and the class whose interests it represents are out in the open for all to see.

Barbara Bush, former first lady and mother of President Bush, was one of the first to make things clear when she said that the poor people sleeping on cots in the Houston Astrodome were “better off” — it was better for them to be ripped out of their homes and displaced to a strange city, dependent on the mercy of others, than to live in their own community and homes.

Today, there is no solution on the horizon for the plight of these people after two years of political malarkey and incredible boondoggling of federal money. This money should have been spent on real rebuilding projects, jobs programs, public education and health care but instead has been squandered on feathering the nests of wealthy contractors who are Bush cronies and not connected in any way to the New Orleans community.

A July 24 New York Times report reviewed the disastrous state of health care in New Orleans. It pointed out that this is blocking economic recovery. The article notes, “Only one of the city’s seven general hospitals is operating at its pre-hurricane level; two more are partially open, and four remain closed.” There has been an exodus of doctors because of the reprehensible conditions. City residents must travel to adjacent parishes to seek care in the emergency rooms of private suburban hospitals.

Both Charity Hospital and the VA Medical Center remain closed. They were the main providers of indigent health care before the storm. Charity Hospital, opened in 1736, is one of the nation’s oldest public medical institutions. Charity was rejuvenated under President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a new 20-story hospital completed in 1939. Michael DeBakey, famed Houston heart surgeon, was trained there.

There are plans now to replace Charity and the VA with a $1.2 billion medical complex that would serve the indigent, as well as veterans and others. The complex would provide a much-needed boost to the local economy and could create jobs for unemployed New Orleans residents.

But, predictably, the Bush administration is opposed to this plan and would prefer to build a small hospital and spend the money on private insurance. Louisiana health officials say such a plan would help less than half of the uninsured.

The question is, as always, “What is to be done?”

A first step is for the people of New Orleans and their supporters across the country — led by unions, civil rights groups and other progressive organizations — to unite and organize a struggle for full funding to reopen Charity Hospital and establish medical facilities to serve all New Orleans residents. Providing first-class public medical care for New Orleans would help reverse the exodus of doctors as well. Perhaps it is time for sit-ins or other mass protests to win this.

This struggle would get a boost from passage of HR 676, which would provide universal health care coverage for everyone in this country.

After Katrina hit, the Cuban government offered to send 1,100 doctors specially trained in post-hurricane medical care. The Bush administration declined this generous offer. Perhaps the people of Louisiana and Mississippi and the rest of us should demand that the government either provide necessary medical personnel for the region or accept Cuba’s offer of assistance. The residents of New Orleans and surrounding areas need medical help now and if doctors from Cuba are able to help, how can we refuse their humane offer?

The New York Times article was instructive about the plight of the people of New Orleans. However, what are needed now are real solutions to this ongoing crisis. Only the people united can stop the hemorrhage of money to wealthy leeches and direct the funds to the benefit of the people devastated by Katrina.

Paul Hill (phill1917 @comcast.net) is a health care provider in Texas.