The Department of Housing and Urban Development said it will release $74 million in community development block grants to Louisiana for a new academic medical center in New Orleans, but is requiring the state to address its concerns before providing the remaining funds. Late last year, the Louisiana Recovery Authority authorized a plan to allocate $300 million in federal funding for the center.
In a letter sent to Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco late Thursday, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson summarized his concerns and included a list of 25 questions about the plans to rebuild Louisiana State Universitys Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans. In 2006, LSU said it would build a new hospital in conjunction with the Veterans Affairs Department.
Jacksons questions addressed concerns about the projected population, demographics, payer mix, utilization rate, availability of medical personnel and bed count. Another question addressed a recent leadership change at LSU: What are the implications of the departure of Don Smithburg, executive vice president and chief executive officer, who had been a champion of this project? LSU announced earlier this month that Smithburg had been reassigned elsewhere in the LSU system.
Charles Zewe, spokesman for the LSU system, called the question silly, adding that LSU had an extensive system supporting Smithburg, and that his departure will have no implications on the plan to build a new hospital.
Zewe also said LSU will respond to the concerns promptly and thoroughly, but that the letter indicates Jackson read the CliffsNotes version because the questions demonstrate a profound lack of knowledge about the plan.
Blancos office issued a written statement that said the Legislature has approved the business plan for this LSU teaching and research hospital and has answered these same questions to satisfaction. The statement also said Blancos office will continue to work with all concerned parties to build a hospital suited to the states needs. -- by Jessica Zigmond