Bill fuels fight over eastern New Orleans hospital

Date: May 31, 2011

Bill fuels fight over eastern New Orleans hospital

Ten months after overhauling the public hospital board for eastern New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu is again seeking to tinker with the law establishing the governing body and fend off a legal challenge from the board members he ousted last summer.

The old Methodist Hospital building, meanwhile, still sits empty with an uncertain path toward the mayor's promise of a full-service hospital east of the Industrial Canal, an area that has gone without one since Hurricane Katrina.

House Bill 353, pushed by the Landrieu administration and sponsored by Rep. Jeff Arnold, R-Algiers, would retool the appointment process for some of the 13 seats on the Orleans Parish Hospital Service District Board A. Perhaps more important, the bill also could become a factor in the continued legal wrangling over the rightful occupants of the board seats. The measure awaits action by the full House after clearing the Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee last week.

Service District Chairman Ronnie Burns, a Landrieu appointee, frames the measure as a necessary component of the redevelopment project. "We haven't had a hospital in six years, " he told lawmakers. "We have a board very committed to make it happen. ... This will help us to keep moving in an expeditious manner."

The former board members whom Landrieu replaced cast the bill as a Landrieu power grab and an effort to stymie their pending lawsuit asserting that they still are the rightful board.

The Legislature created the board after Katrina with the idea that it would preside over redeveloping the shuttered Methodist Hospital into a community hospital. Lawmakers tinkered with the board last year, shortly after Landrieu took office, stripping the City Council's confirmation authority over mayoral appointees and ending their defined terms of service. That meant that the mayor's seven appointees would serve at his pleasure.

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