Mid-City Welcomes New Era of Care

Upcoming UMC and VA hospitals will go beyond just filling the gaps left behind after Katrina.
UMC and VA Hospitals)
A peek at a future interior courtyard inside the new University Medical Center, set to open in 2015.

Two hospitals now under construction in the Mid-City area will give a major shot in the arm to health care delivery in New Orleans.

But the impact of the University Medical Center and the new Veterans Affairs hospital, slated to open in 2015 and 2016 respectively, goes way beyond plugging a health care gap. The projects are expected to bring thousands of high-paying jobs to the city and establish it as a world-class academic medical center.

Hurricane Katrina dealt a clobbering blow to a multitude of health care institutions in the greater New Orleans region. Chief among them were Charity Hospital and the VA hospital. Their replacements are going up side-by-side on a 70-acre site at the edge of the Central Business District. Together, the new hospitals are expected to cost around $2 billion.

The Face of the New VA

According to Carla Marshall, public affairs specialist with the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, restoration of the former VA hospital on Perdido Street would not have been cost effective.

The building was more than 70 years old, and the devastation caused by Katrina’s floodwaters was extensive.

While the new VA hospital won’t begin seeing patients until 2016, the former Pan-American Life Insurance Building at 2400 Canal St. has already been converted into its administration center.

The magnitude of the building project is colossal: when completed, the new hospital will serve more than 70,000 veterans from 23 parishes in Southeast Louisiana. The 1.6 million-square-foot facility will include 120 medical/surgical beds, 20 acute psychiatric care beds and 60 transitional beds (40 for rehabilitation, 20 for hospice) plus two 1,000-car parking garages.

Plans call for 400,000 square feet of outpatient services, an emergency room and the latest diagnostic equipment. The new hospital will also offer rehabilitation therapy especially for injured veterans and is designed to be more user-friendly than older hospitals.


UMC to Fill Charity’s Hole

For generations, the city’s poor sought medical care at Charity Hospital. When Hurricane Katrina caused Charity’s closure, the Interim LSU Hospital (ILH) was opened at what was formerly called University Hospital.

With its 235 beds and a staff of around 2,000, ILH has served as a safety net for those who would have formerly been seen at Charity.

According to Cindy Nuesslein, chief executive of UMC, the interim hospital’s employees will be folded into the new medical center, and additional staff will be hired as programs are put in place. The new hospital will have 444 beds and employ around 3,000 people.

UMC will be operated by LCMC Health, which currently operates the interim hospital. Other members of the LCMC network include Children’s Hospital, Touro Infirmary and the New Orleans East hospital, which opened in August.

LCMC Health has about 6,000 employees.

“We’re an attractive employer with a very competitive pay and benefit package,” notes CEO Greg Feirn.

One of Charity’s premier roles was that of a training center for nursing, medical school and allied health students, as well as doctors in residency programs. That will continue at UMC. The medical center will have relationships with Xavier University, Dillard University, University of New Orleans and Delgado Community College as well as Tulane and LSU medical schools.

Tulane provides about 35 percent of the teaching faculty of physicians at ILH, and Dr. Lee Hamm, senior vice president of Tulane University and dean of Tulane’s School of Medicine, says the school will continue to provide that number of physicians, as well as residents and students, at UMC.

“It’s a very important site for us,” he says.

Dr. Steve Nelson, dean of LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans, says students from the school of dentistry, nursing and medical school will receive training at UMC.

“We have training at other sites, but this will be our anchor,” he says, noting that faculty members will educate and train medical students and postgraduate students along with providing patient care.

Nelson says UMC’s mix of academics and medical care, as well as research, will make the new hospital a great financial draw. He notes that the University of Alabama in Birmingham’s academic medical center is the state’s largest employer and has a financial impact of between $4.5 billion and $5 billion.

“Many of the fastest-growing occupations in our country are in health care,” Nelson says. “We’re poised perfectly for it. We expect this University Medical Center will be an economic driver for well-paying jobs.”

Since outpatient and preventive care make up a critical piece of the health care landscape, UMC is set to include an office building where patients can obtain an array of outpatient clinical diagnostic tests.

It will also offer the state’s only Level 1 trauma center, making UMC a destination for patients from all over Louisiana.

“As the hospital grows, it will offer programs not found at other hospitals in the state,” Nusselain says. “People will be attracted to the caliber of faculty and the niche specialty programs it will offer.”

To prevent a recurrence of the catastrophic events that occurred at Charity Hospital during Hurricane Katrina, UMC is being constructed as a place where patients and staff can shelter in place during significant storms.  

Nusselain says the activities that take place on the first floor will not be critical to running the hospital during a disaster, and that care will always be able to continue on floors two through six.

UMC is designed to be self-sustaining for seven days, and the building itself is intended to withstand category three winds and rain.




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