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Statements challenge Blanco, suggest refurbishment

Concerned about her image from the day she entered the state’s highest office, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco suffered another blow to her credibility and Louisiana another obstacle to getting money for a brand-spanking new state-owned hospital when a widely-praised figure contradicted their claims about Hurricane Katrina damage.

Perhaps the person in any position of authority who came out of events leading up to and the aftermath of the storm that struck the New Orleans area in 2005 was Russell Honore, then a lieutenant general in charge of the military’s efforts at damage control in the days immediately after the storm triggered the breaching of the city’s levees. Although he had a decorated military career, Honore maybe is best known for popularizing the phrase in his initial days on this job “stuck on stupid” that characterizes those who don’t see mistakes of the past and are unwilling to move forward in new and positive ways.

His bluntness recently probably was not appreciated by Blanco or by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration when he made comments about the situation at New Orleans’ “Big Charity” hospital that formerly existed in Mid-City. During Katrina, winds whipped the building and it flooded. Not long after, Blanco declared the building a total loss and began to pursue nearly $500 million in federal dollars to build a new facility as the federal Veterans Administration proposed a hospital of their own adjacent to it. Jindal scaled back Blanco’s palatial plans somewhat but still seeks a new building.

To date, the federal government has not seen the matter exactly the way Blanco proclaimed and Jindal endorsed. It has argued that the building might not have been as bad off as Blanco claimed, and further contends that some portion of the “damage” was caused by decades of neglect and has proposed a figure of less than a third of that for which Blanco originally petitioned. Simultaneously, a wide spectrum of community interests have asserted that the original hospital was not as badly damaged by the storm as Blanco claimed and have pushed for scrapping the new facility in favor of rebuilding the old.

Contacted about the issue as these groups try to build a case to get the federal government to intervene through various to stop work on a new facility, now retired Honore said after the military thoroughly reconstituted the place in a couple of weeks, Blanco ordered it not to be reopened and indicated something else was going to happen. Others have confirmed the medical readiness of the facility at the time, most notably most of its medical staff. Instead, the state got the federal government to spend over $100 million in direct costs to provide health care from temporary facilities, and private providers an unknown amount, to take up the slack since. Honore and others involved in the effort have called Blanco’s action politically-motivated to get new facilities.

Blanco denies this, but she has a track record on the subject of Katrina that erodes her credibility. From her confused explanations about inaction to grudging yet incomplete release of documents transmitted during the crisis, on numerous occasions she and her staff have contradicted themselves on issues connected to Katrina. By contrast, Honore’s straight talking made him a minor celebrity in the months he spent overseeing rebuilding.

So who would the reasonable person believe? More importantly, who will the federal government believe, for if it’s Honore, that erodes the state’s case for more money even more. Which is yet another reason why this effort should be abandoned and the almost-four years now unused existing structure be refurbished to vase hundreds of millions of bucks.


James S said...

This whole issue is an series of lies and ineptness. Of what use will a palatial VA/Charity Hospital be when surrounded by 15 feet of flood water? Another big storm is coming, it's only a matter of time. If a Category 4 or 5 hits New Orleans in just the wrong way, no levee ever built will stop it. Rebuild Big Charity while in the process of joing the rest of the country in providing indigent care and save the houndreds of millions for a better use.

P.S.: My money's on Honore'-what reason would he have to lie about this? Blank-o sure has many reasons to do so...

hubig said...

Really appreciated this post. No need to guess who's right and who's wrong, the pictures tell a lot of this story.

These are the pictures that General Honore was talking about, taken 3 weeks after Katrina when Charity was cleaned up by the 82nd Airborne.

So why does Governor Jindal want to waste hundreds of millions of dollars tearing down an historic neighborhood when he can build the new hospital inside the Charity shell?

So much for fiscal responsibility!