The Lens has partnered with PolitiFact for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to see if President Barack Obama has followed through on his campaign promises about the storm and the city of New Orleans.
Pledge: Rebuild hospitals in New Orleans
Will rebuild broken facilities and provide incentives, such as loan forgiveness, to lure medical professionals back to the region. They will fight to establish a major medical complex in downtown New Orleans that will serve the entire community. They will also push to quickly build a new, state-of-the-art Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in New Orleans so that the city’s veterans can get top-quality care.
Ruling: Promise kept
Nearly a decade after Hurricane Katrina flooded the floors of New Orleans’ beloved public hospital, its $1.1 billion replacement has finally opened.
Katrina severely damaged Charity Hospital, an Art Deco building where the city’s low-income and uninsured adults received treatment, and one of the oldest of its kind in the country. So in lieu of repairing Charity, its operator, Louisiana State University, proposed building a new facility. (The decision continues to rankle many today.)
That new facility and other developments have allowed Obama to keep the essence of his promise. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing; there have been several setbacks and challenges when it comes to rebuilding New Orleans hospitals.
After a four-year dispute with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over the costs, Louisiana received $475 million in federal funding for a new hospital in 2010 (the state received $933 million from FEMA to rebuild and repair hospitals across the Bayou State). Construction on the replacement, University Medical Center, began two years later, and the center opened on Aug. 1, 2015.
However, there is concern that the center will be underfunded, as it will cost $525 million to operate every year, and Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican presidential candidate, has rejected the Medicaid expansion that would have footed the bill for many of the state’s poor.
Beyond the public facility, Obama also promised to rebuild the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, to replace the one lost in Katrina and to withstand future storms. We reported in 2013 that the new hospital will better withstand floods, store enough fuel for a week, and collect rainwater in case the city supply is contaminated.
The construction, however, has been mired in disputes and repeated cost adjustments. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates construction on the hospital will take about 8.5 years to complete (a year and half longer than anticipated) at a cost just shy of $1 billion (a 60 percent increase from the initial estimates). The hospital is set to open in February 2016.
Other federal health care recovery efforts include repairing broken hospitals and giving doctors and nurses incentives to return to the region. We noted in 2013 that two arms of the executive branch — FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development — provided more than $1 billion in assistance to replace a facility in New Orleans East. The new hospital opened in July 2014.
Obama, however, fell short of providing incentives to lure medical professionals into the region. In 2007, during the presidency of George W. Bush, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals received a $50 million federal grant to recruit and retain health care professionals in New Orleans, a spokeswoman from the department told us. But the Obama administration hasn’t provided similar funding.
Overall, Obama largely stayed true to his word. We rate this a Promise Kept.
Federal Emergency Management Agency, Louisiana — Hurricanes Katrina & Rita, July 30, 2015
New York Times, ‘Louisiana Wins Fight for Hospital’, Jan. 27, 2010
New York Times, ‘New Orleans Hospital Is Replaced, With Hope of Preserving Its Mission,’ Aug. 1, 2015
University Medical Center, University Medical Center Opens, Aug. 1, 2015
U.S. Government Accountability Office, Additional Actions Needed to Decrease Delays and Lower Costs of Major Medical-Facility Projects, April 2013
Times-Picayune, “New Orleans East Hospital opens quietly, still seeking accreditation,” July 24, 2014