[StBernard] St. Bernard Parish Hospital is nearly ready to offer health care close to home

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Jul 16 08:40:50 EDT 2012

St. Bernard Parish Hospital is nearly ready to offer health care close to

Published: Sunday, July 15, 2012, 8:30 AM

By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune

Nearly seven years after Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaks combined to
destroy the lone hospital in St. Bernard Parish, the 113,000-square-foot
public St. Bernard Parish Hospital is nearly complete, with just some floor
waxing and minor electric work remaining. A new MRI sits in a first-floor
room wrapped in plastic like a gift from outer space. Construction workers
filter in and out, removing wall tiles to test alarm systems, lighting and
WiFi signals.

And giving visitors a sense or home, the hospital's logo - a wavy heartbeat
line that bisects a fleur-de-lis - dots each corridor, and a large two-story
map of the marshes surrounding St. Bernard lines the entrance.

Construction is expected to wrap up this month, and then the hospital must
pass a state certification and accreditation process that local officials
hope will be finalized by mid- or late August. Construction of an adjacent
60,000-square-foot medical office building is expected to wrap up this fall.

Both facilities sit between West Judge Perez Drive and St. Bernard Highway
on a 23-acre tract that was donated by the Arlene and Joseph Meraux
Foundation, the private entity created to oversee charitable spending fueled
by the Meraux fortune.

"The hospital should give St. Bernard residents peace of mind," said Wayne
Landry, chairman of the Hospital Service District Board. "You don't have to
go into the city anymore, sometimes in the middle of the night, to get
health care."

Since the privately owned, 196-bed Chalmette Medical Center was demolished
in February 2007, the parish has had a health clinic run out of trailers by
the nonprofit Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, but no
emergency room or full-service hospital.

Now, Landry and other officials are trying to get word out about the new

Using the hospital

Only 48 percent of St. Bernard residents used Chalmette Medical Center
before Katrina, "meaning 52 percent of people passed it up," Landry said. He
implored residents to use the hospital, explaining that "at the end of the
day, this is a business."

In its first five months of operation, the hospital budget anticipates about
$10.1 million in operating expenses against only $5.8 million in patient
revenue. Overall operating expenses for 2012 are expected to reach about
$13.7 million.

Expecting such shortfalls in the hospital's first three years of operation,
parish residents in November 2010 passed a 10-year, 8-mill tax that will
generate an estimated $2.3 million annually.

Backed by the tax revenue, the hospital will be able to borrow between $14
million and $16 million to keep afloat in its infancy. The remainder of the
money will pay the interest on borrowing that money up front.

Hospital Chief Executive Officer Tim Burke said that for the hospital to
survive, it also must attract physicians, and he said residents must play a
part in that.

"If you want your physician here, you have just as much force in that as we
do," Burke said.

View full size

Last week, a who's who of St. Bernard movers and shakers received a tour of
the facility. Landry led that group, which included Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann,
St. Bernard school Superintendent Doris Voitier, attorney Walter Leger,
parish Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Stephen Reuther, and many
other chamber members, local business owners and area officials.

Building the parish

Reuther said the hospital is an important step in bringing people back to
St. Bernard. Before Katrina, the parish had about 65,000 people, whereas now
it has about 40,000.

The hospital has 40 patient beds: eight intensive care, four long-term care
and 28 general inpatient. There also are four operating suites, two
endoscopy suites and 10 beds in the emergency room.

Currently, each of the patient rooms is private, but Landry said an extra
bed could be added if needed "so pretty much overnight we could double the
capacity." And he said the hospital has the infrastructure to support a
fourth floor, which could add 110 beds. Landry also said there are eight to
nine additional acres available for possible expansion.

The three-story medical office building, which will include a free clinic
and offices for about 12 doctors, could be complete as soon as early
September but construction is more likely to continue through October or
even November because of anticipated weather delays. It has about 38,000
square feet of rental space and it already has soft commitments for 11,000
square feet, or about six doctors in either group practice or private
offices, according to Burke.

The Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System will operate the
hospital with Frank Folino as the administrator. He previously managed the
local health clinic for the Franciscans, but that clinic has since been
transferred over to the St. Charles Community Health Center's control.

Free clinic will move

That free clinic, currently run out of units at 7718 W. Judge Perez Drive in
Arabi, will be transferred to the second floor of the medical office
building through a $2 million FEMA grant.

Together, the hospital and medical office building cost about $83 million.
The money comes from $46 million in federal Community Development Block
Grants, $5 million of which is through the state's local infrastructure
program, $17 million in state capital outlay money, $11.6 million in new
market tax credits, $1.3 million from a federal Health Resources and
Services Administration grant, and $2 million from FEMA for the transfer of
the clinic.

Construction of the main hospital came to about $70 million, while the
medical office building will cost about $13 million, including about $5
million in local infrastructure CDBG money, $6 million in the new market tax
credits and the $2 million in FEMA funds.

In acknowledgement of hurricanes, the hospital has two back-up generators.
The first would run within 10 seconds of power going out and would provide
electricity to essential functions, and the second could be turned on when
needed to serve the rest of the hospital. Each could supply power for up to
a week.

Benjamin Alexander-Bloch can be reached at bbloch at timespicayune.com or

C 2012 NOLA.com. All rights reserved.

More information about the StBernard mailing list