Land Use

A clear need for mental-health facilities presents an obvious use for Charity

Since Charity Hospital was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina, it seems like everyone has come forward with a plan for the adaptive reuse of the Art Deco masterpiece. And yet eight years later it stands empty. Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants to put City Hall and Civil District Court in the building, though he hasn’t gotten the judges to agree. The Lens solicited the views of our readers and city leaders; over the next several days we are publishing edited versions of their ideas. Post your reactions in the comments below each story.

In 2009, I was working with Organizing For America, advocating for health care reform.

At that time, I had a conversation with Ed Carlson, executive director of Odyssey House, a substance-abuse treatment center here in New Orleans.  He gave me a paper outlining his plan for crime reduction in the city by increasing the number of beds and treatment options for substance abuse.

Lynda Woolard

Photo by Carl Walker

Lynda Woolard

During this same time frame, we organizers found ourselves butting heads frequently with people who should have been allies, but were focused on the “Save Charity Hospital”movement.  It occurred to me that there might be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

As we continue to struggle with crime issues, substance-abuse issues and mental-health issues — which often overlap — and since we have a very large hospital facility that is a beloved, historic landmark, it would seem that Charity Hospital might be an excellent candidate to become a treatment center with ample beds for substance-abuse rehab and mental-health patients.

As the statistics in Carlson’s study clearly show, this should help reduce crime in New Orleans. Of course, there could be floors dedicated to the judicial side of the substance-abuse crisis: alternatives to incarceration for youthful offenders, parole services, and so on. But there should also be ample administrative space to house offices for career counseling and other assistance to those completing treatment. That we lack affordable, accessible facilities to address mental-health needs in a post-Katrina, post-oil-spill New Orleans is a truism that need not be argued.

I am not sure whether the Affordable Care Act can be a factor in financing a repurposed Charity Hospital; there may be public/private partnerships that can underwrite such a venture. But here we have a large building created for medical purposes that would theoretically need minimal work to create spaces for inpatient and outpatient services — some of them services Charity once provided.

Giving the beloved hospital building a new and positive role, while lowering crime rates and creating a whole lot of new jobs downtown, looks to me like a win-win-win for the city and some of its most troubled residents.

Lynda Woolard, president of the Woolard Family Foundation, is a resident of the Carrollton area, a grassroots organizer, a member of the Krewe of Nyx, a rescue animal mom and proud member of the WhoDatNation.

Others weigh in on the future of Charity

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  • Janet Hays


  • Louis Crispino

    Great idea, you’ve got my vote!

  • Stewart Young

    Great idea Lynda, glad to hear of practical ideas to address some of the problems our community faces

  • A Mental Health Clinic versus a Good Job
    Why should NOLA have more mental health services/clinics when after they get out of the clinic, there are no jobs for them? Or if they don’t want to follow the rules of the clinic, they hang around the area as, again, there is no job for them since they themselves, scare away customers to the surrounding businesses? Of which many have left, hence, no real surrounding businesses like that of Oretha Castle Haley and that NOLA Homeless mission and Bridge House.

    NEW CLINIC versus NEW COMMUNITY(w/ a clinic)
    If there is one type of person who needs a complete change of scenery, wouldn’t it be those most at risk, like those with mental health problems? In other words, those with mental health problems don’t need just a mental clinic, they need a new stable community and new set of stable friends and acquaintances, would they not? And don’t these mental health patients need help today, not years from now? Hence, a one-way ticket to a stable place that has JOBS is what they really need, and they need it today.

    Think BIG PICTURE.
    Think Long Term Picture of the future
    Think Long Term of the Past i.e. “how did it get like this in the first place?”

  • Linda Kocher

    This makes a lot of sense to me. Treatment beds AND wrap-around services are the way to go. One without the other doesn’t work – never has.