DALLAS — Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy Tuesday night will hear from opponents as well as backers of a proposed $1.2 billion, 424-bed state academic medical center in New Orleans.
Kennedy will be the chief speaker at a public meeting on the University Medical Center, which would serve as the main medical training facility for Louisiana State University, Tulane University, and other medical schools in the region. The hospital would be part of the state system to treat indigent patients.
On the printed program for the event, Kennedy is scheduled to present the “fiscal realities” of the project, which he opposes in its current form, and then open the meeting to comments, questions, and suggestions on how to proceed with the project.
“I’m going to tell them the truth,” Kennedy said. “Six years after the storm, and we’re still at square one because there has been only one option, the LSU option, on the table.”
The current proposal would use federal reimbursements for hurricane damages and $400 million of revenue bonds to build the new facility.
Kennedy, U.S. Sen. David Vitter and House Speaker Jim Tucker have proposed a smaller project that they said could be built with the money on hand without issuing debt.
Site work on the new facility is scheduled to begin this fall. It is projected to open in early 2015.
The UMC board has ordered a third financial review of the proposal at the request of Gov. Bobby Jindal, and is to present a new comprehensive financial plan in September to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
Kennedy said he was asked by community groups to discuss the project at the meeting.
“These people are directly affected by this project, and they haven’t had a voice, and their opinions have not been solicited,” he said.
Sarah Stokes, a director of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, said the hearing will be the first meaningful opportunity for the public to make their feelings known on the hospital project.
“The public has never been allowed to provide their input,” she said. “The state has demolished 67 residential acres and more than 200 historical buildings at the site, they don’t have the money to build it, and there’s never been a realistic business plan.”
The foundation is one of more than two dozen civic and advocacy groups hosting the public meeting.
“Since the event was announced a week ago, 27 groups have asked to be co-hosts,” Stokes said.
The historical foundation and many of the co-hosting groups have urged the state to build the new hospital within the walls of Old Charity Hospital, which has been closed since the structure was flooded as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We paid for a study in 2008 that said the Old Charity building could be gutted to its walls and opened within three years for $620 million,” Stokes said. “We could have that facility already operating, at half the cost of the LSU proposal.”
Kennedy said he was not qualified to determine if the replacement in the shell was a viable alternative.
“But I can tell you the state doesn’t know that either,” the treasurer said. “They never considered it.”