Witness Testimony of Hon. C. Ray Nagin, City of New Orleans, LA, Mayor
I am C. Ray Nagin, Mayor of New Orleans, one of America’s most beloved and culturally distinctive cities, and a city which is facing the challenge of recovering and rebuilding strategically after the worst natural and man-made disaster to occur in the United States of America. Our goal is to make our city stronger and better, and to provide improved services and opportunities to the citizens of our city and region. Among our most deserving citizens are our veterans, who have given of themselves to serve our country in times of war and peace.
To Chair and Congressman Filner, Ranking Member and Congressman Buyer, distinguished members and guests of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs: Thank you for calling this hearing to discuss the future of “VA healthcare in south Louisiana.” The Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital has been an important presence in our community, and the construction of a new facility in downtown New Orleans would achieve several things: ensure that veterans receive the excellent state-of-the–art medical care they deserve; improve the provision of healthcare in general in the community; and dramatically impact the economy of our region.
I would like first to thank the Congress for their continued support in the months since Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding of our city. I also must thank the American people and our friends throughout the world for their unwavering generosity.
Role of the VA Hospital
The VA Hospital has traditionally played an important role in ensuring the well-being of the over 200,000 veterans in southern Louisiana. The VA Hospital serves not only the veterans who live in the region, but the thousands who visit the city as tourists, for special events and for conventions. The construction of a new VA hospital in downtown New Orleans would greatly impact the availability, accessibility and quality of care for veterans. It would also help us to reclaim the many highly skilled and qualified medical specialists who were displaced after the storm, as well as to attract new medical professionals, facilities and businesses.
The area where the hospital would locate is within a legislatively created medical district, encompassing more than 30 public, private, and not-for-profit organizations, including several colleges and universities (LSU, Tulane, Xavier, Delgado), several hospitals, two medical schools, nursing schools, medically related offices and businesses, and associated biotech companies.
The presence of the VA Hospital in this district creates the synergy and leveraging ability that clustering of medical facilities can achieve. In this central location, it will continue to be a critical piece of the healthcare network of the New Orleans region. The physical proximity of institutions allows for sharing of expensive and ever changing technologies and diagnostic equipment. It also encourages human interaction and intellectual exchanges that can lead to more accurate diagnoses, varied treatment approaches and important scholarly and medical research and discovery.
Pre and post Katrina, the area’s bioscience institutions have been conducting cutting-edge research in areas such as gene therapy, cancer biology, peptide pharmaceutical design, and infectious diseases. Federal and private grant funding in New Orleans exceeded $180 million in 2003 and was growing substantially as New Orleans based institutions capitalized on their core strengths. In fiscal year 2005, the New Orleans area accounted for $129.8 million in awards from the National Institutes of Health, representing 74 percent of the total amount awarded within the entire state of Louisiana. Those organizations have come together to
Many of these bioscience institutions have joined together to create the New Orleans Regional Biosciences Initiative (NORBI), one of the major redevelopment projects of the region. The new VA hospital would be an anchor in NORBI, along with other institutions such as Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) and Tulane University Hospital and Clinic. Their partnership with the VA would increase veterans’ access to medical specialists and researchers.
The VA Hospital is also a critical economic development engine for the City of New Orleans. The new facility would result in a capital investment estimated to be $650 million to $1 billion, with an annual impact of $500 million. If co-located with the planned new LSU teaching facility, together they would result in a capital investment of at least $2 billion and produce an annual impact of more than $1.26 billion, including more than 20,000 construction jobs and more than 10,000 full time professional positions.
Our Work to Retain the Hospital
Recognizing the importance of such a development, the City of New Orleans, along with a coalition of regional partners, submitted a response to the Department of Veterans Affairs Request for Expressions of Interest to acquire a site for the construction of a medical center in the New Orleans Metropolitan Area. This medical district location for the VA Hospital has the support of the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, the New Orleans City Council, and the Downtown Development District, each of which unanimously approved resolutions to keep the hospital downtown. In addition, the Louisiana chapter of the American Legion, with more than 1,000 delegates in attendance at its annual meeting last month, also unanimously supported the rebuilding of the VA Hospital in downtown New Orleans.
The city and its partners have the financial means to expeditiously acquire the necessary land, which will be done with the support of a cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) with the State of Louisiana. This CEA engages the state to use quick-take authority for public benefit for all of the land required for the VA site, something it is in the process of doing for the adjacent LSU location. Site acquisition can be accomplished within the VA’s 18-month design timeframe for the hospital, so that construction can begin immediately upon completion of the design. The city can provide the necessary infrastructure for the site, including water, sewer and electricity, and has conducted preliminary site assessments which indicate environmental concerns will not be a problem.
Much of the property that would be used for the project is currently non-residential. A large portion of it has been empty or underutilized, and this project provides an opportunity for further renewal of our urban core. Of the residential properties, most are not owner occupied, and the city has an agreement with an experienced non-profit for assistance with relocations. Acquisition of the land by the city would provide property owners with a government buyout, ensuring a fair price and an opportunity to locate in areas they find more desirable.
Though we realize there are significant advantages and cost savings to be had by co-location or coordination of services between the VA and LSU hospitals, our proposal to the VA is not dependent upon the building of any other facility.
In closing, I would like to again thank you for the opportunity to discuss our plans and hopes for the reestablishment of this critical healthcare institution in post-Katrina New Orleans. We appreciate your commitment, as the Committee on Veterans Affairs, to ensuring that those who have served our country receive the excellent medical services they deserve. The presence of the VA Hospital in our downtown medical district will allow it to take advantage of the clustering of clinical, research, teaching and commercialization facilities to achieve that goal for our veterans and our community.