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

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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

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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