Re-open New Orleans’ Rev. Avery C. Alexander Charity Hospital!

Date Published: 
May 21, 2008


Re-open New Orleans’
Rev. Avery C. Alexander Charity Hospital!

          One week following Hurricane Katrina’s August 29, 2005 landfall, several dozen medical staff at New Orleans’ Rev. Avery C. Alexander Charity Hospital along with the U.S. military began their heroic attempt to clean up from the storm and resume this vital health facility’s operations. They vowed to reopen what generations have known as the art deco landmark of “Big Charity”.

          Floodwaters which had inundated Charity Hospital’s basement were drained. All twenty-one floors were cleared of perishable refuse. Recently-installed electrical switches which provided an alternative connection from ones originally situated in the basement were reconnected. Sanitation and chilled-air capacity was similarly repaired and restored. Elevators were restarted.

         Big Charity Hospital’s first three floors, housing its famed Level One emergency department, dozens of outpatient clinics and a 97-bed psychiatric Crisis Intervention Unit were fully prepared to be reopened and ready to provide health services. Both the Army Corps of Engineers (which had to give clearance to military personnel to commence work) and the U.S. Public Health Service certified the premises as being fit as a healthcare facility.

        Despite this effort under extraordinary conditions the administrative operator of Charity Hospital, the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center of New Orleans, Health Care Services Division (LSUHSC-HCSD) threatened to charge its workers with trespassing if they continued to restore the facility. Proclaiming Charity Hospital too damaged to reopen, LSUHSC-HCSD shutdown the facility. It then forced its medical staff with U.S. military assistance into erecting outdoor makeshift “E-Med” tent facilities in the dusty open-air parking lot next to the ravaged sister campus known then as University Hospital on South Johnson Street.

         Outraged that LSUHSC would not open otherwise vitally-needed facilities, the medical staff lobbied their superiors to reopen Charity Hospital. They appealed to the public and elected officials directly and through the media. The New York Times broke this story to the world on December 17, 2005 with a report entitled: “Dispute Over Historic Hospital for the Poor Pits Doctors Against the State”. Big Charity Hospital however remained shuttered.

         New Orleans continues to endure the nation’s worst urban health crisis in one hundred years. Charity Hospital’s psychiatric Crisis Intervention Unit has yet to be replaced. Scores of outpatient clinics once housed at Big Charity have either yet to reopen or are operating on limited once-a-week schedules. Many are also located hours away from New Orleans – effectively keeping residents from returning to the city, causing tremendous hardship upon patients.

         In the more than two years since Charity Hospital was unjustly abandoned, medical professionals, former patients and their families, front-line public safety and emergency responders continue to demand its reopening. Joining them has been elected officials from New Orleans’ executive, legislative and judicial government branches. The New Orleans City Council May 17, 2007 unanimously demanded Charity Hospital’s reopening – and successfully sought a legal opinion from Louisiana State Attorney General Charles C. Foti, Jr regarding the legality of LSU being able to close Charity without state legislative approval. Attorney General Foti said June 18, 2007 that LSU cannot do so.

         LSU has not received state legislative approval to close Charity Hospital. In fact the 2006 Louisiana House and Senate’s first legislative instrument to address the crisis passed without opposition HCR 89, which called for Big Charity Hospital’s reopening on an interim basis until a replacement facility is constructed, as well as a full and independent architectural and engineering inspection in conjunction with the Foundation for Historical Louisiana. Governor Kathleen Blanco’s administration and LSU officials failed to honor this legislative mandate. With a new gubernatorial regime in place under Governor Bobby Jindal, might there be a change?

         One potential catalyst to reopen Charity Hospital is a lawsuit by seven plaintiffs who all have been medically compromised because of its continued closure. Filed January 17, 2008, the legal action pulls together local and national prominent attorneys and health law experts to uphold Act 906, Louisiana Revised Statutes (2003), which mandates that LSUHSC-NO must receive state legislative permission to close a state hospital or emergency department, or to reduce health services more than 35% in the first year and 15% a year thereafter without legislative approval.

         The movement to reopen the Rev. Avery C. Alexander Charity Hospital continues to grow. Research into other dimensions of neglect by the state and LSU to restore public health services continue to mount. Community and human rights organizations, faith communities and former staff, patients and medical, governmental and public safety personnel have joined to together to proclaim that “Louisiana Health Matters!”. The goal of this legal action as well as our healthcare access movement is to force the state and LSU to either reopen Big Charity, or to fully and immediately replace the care it provided. This includes its world renowned Level One Trauma Center, specially-designed, centrally-located and staffed psychiatric Crisis Intervention Unit, more than 150 outpatient clinics and scores of specialty medical and behavioral health services. Only a fraction of that number are available now, operated on limited schedules and makeshift accommodations under the very conditions LSU officials say they were critical against Big Charity for. Ongoing community education, research and organizing efforts welcome and need your participation and support. JOIN THE MOVEMENT TO REOPEN CHARITY HOSPITAL!

For more information, contact The Committee to Reopen Charity Hospital, P. O. Box 71221, New Orleans, LA 70172. Contact K. Brad Ott at (504) 269-4951 or at bradthegrad [at] hotmail [dot] com. The committee’s website is To learn about the legal action to reopen Charity Hospital and restore its healthcare, see