NEW ORLEANS — Ten years after the levees and floodwalls broke during Hurricane Katrina and flooded New Orleans, the Big Easy finally has a full-scale hospital again — a new Charity hospital.
At 6 a.m. Saturday (AUG. 1), the new 2.3 million-square-foot University Medical Center New Orleans, built with $1.1 billion of federal, state and private rebuilding money, ambulances and medical staff began the transfer of 131 patients into the new hospital for its first day of operations. Orchestrating the move required closing down streets as ambulances take patients into the facility.
In addition, the system’s 2,000-strong staff of doctors, specialists, nurses and office workers will move in too.
Since Katrina, medical services have been scattered across the city. Thus, the opening of the UMC complex — an artfully designed state-of-the-art hospital — signals a return to top-notch medical care.
The hospital will serve anyone, whether they can pay or not, the hospital has promised.
“It will be a safety net hospital,” said Dr. Peter DeBlieux, UMC’s chief medical officer and director of emergency services.
The UMC complex is the successor to the towering 1930s-era Charity Hospital, a 1-million-square-foot Art Deco downtown institution much loved in New Orleans. In tandem with the UMC campus, a new adjacent U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital is slated to open next year.
The UMC complex is as much a hospital as an architectural endeavor and civic statement. It is a lavish expression of glass chandeliers, space-age like furniture, silent Buddhist-like ponds — all under soft lighting and splashed with soft colors. Critics have said its exteriors do not fit in New Orleans.
New Orleans has a long and distinguished medical history and the city’s university-run hospitals attract medical students by the thousands. As Charity was before, the new hospital will function as a teaching hospital too.
DeBlieux said having the new hospital open will “raise the standard for health care across the region.”
While the nonprofit hospital will serve any person off the street, it also aims to attract paying customers. The new medical center is being run by LCMC Health, a private not-for-profit health care system that includes Children’s Hospital, Touro and New Orleans East Hospital.
LCMC Health CEO Greg C. Feirn has said the new facility is expected to cost $465 million a year to operate.
The hospital will accept Medicaid and under-insured patients, who now make up about 70 percent of the patients seen at an interim hospital that has served the poor and as a trauma center since Charity was closed.