Health Care / Spending / Transparency

Commentary: City Bureaucrats Bicker While New Orleans East Demands Hospital

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Unelected hospital board stuck in lawsuit, failing to make progress on new facility

Since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, New Orleans East has been without an operating hospital. Two successive mayors have failed to replace the old Methodist Hospital building.

A report by the Times-Picayune this week provides ample explanation for this inertia. As usual, the responsibility for providing New Orleans with a necessary service has fallen to another unelected, mayoral-appointee board. The New Orleans Hospital District A Board came out of 2006 state legislation to “preside over redeveloping the shuttered Methodist Hospital into a community hospital,” to which it has not come close.

After Mayor Landrieu took office, he quickly dismissed Mayor Nagin’s appointees to this board, backed by a law which essentially left the composition of the board up to the Mayor’s discretion. In response, the Nagin-era board members filed a suit challenging the legality of Landrieu’s actions. The board must now focus on a time and money-consuming lawsuit.

Now, HB 353, authored by Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-Algiers) and backed by Landrieu, seeks to “retool” the appointing process. According to Arnold, his bill would give the public more say over the composition of the board.

The bill, however, misses the point. It would merely reinforce the flawed notion that unelected bureaucrats are qualified to have critical influence over the city’s hospitals and that more boards and commissions are a prerequisite to progress.

The city currently has planned a public-private partnership with the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System to operate the proposed hospital. However, Hospital Board agreed to this partnership behind closed doors and gave the public no say in the matter. Moreover, the closed-door selection in lieu of an open bidding process meant that the city did not necessarily choose the most fiscally prudent course of action for a hospital which taxpayers will certainly subsidize.

The most practical and responsible way towards achieving a new hospital in the East is taking the reins from the hands of bureaucrats and putting private contractors in the driver’s seat. A competitive, transparent bidding process for a new hospital does not require the oversight of an entirely new board.

The East’s hospital charade is testament to the ineptitude and destructiveness of government interference.  Government, as a business model, is habitually a failure, and something as indispensable as a hospital should be left to health care professionals, not unelected boards.

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