Eric Paulsen / Eyewitness News
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's a project that has been wrapped in controversy since it was first proposed: a new teaching hospital to be built next to the new VA Hospital near downtown New Orleans.
From where to build it to how much it will cost and how many beds the hospital should house, it appeared for a while during this past legislative session that lawmakers were determined to stall the project or make sure it was scaled back.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu with Sen. David Vitter, Treasurer John Kennedy and House Speaker Jim Tucker all called for a change in the plans, and it seemed there was a chance that the dream of a bio-medical corridor in New Orleans was in trouble.
But Gov. Bobby Jindal says no.
"People are missing the point by being obsessed with the number of beds. The reality is the number of beds will be determined by the market," Jindal said. "When it comes to the bed size, whatever we build, whether it's $900 million, $1.2 billion, 424 beds, or whatever, whatever we build one is going to be scalable. Because you're going to have to add additional towers as this thing is successful.
"And secondly," Jindal said, "it is very common in modern hospital construction is you build shells and then you fill in the floors as you need them."
The governor says once you have the infrastructure in place and the physical building there, expansion can and will take place as time goes on. He says that is unequivocally going to happen, and it will be starting soon.
Then when expansion is needed, money can be bonded out to do that work.
Right now he wants to make sure the business plan makes sense, so Louisiana is not leaving health care dollars on the table.
"This isn't about bed size. This isn't about LSU versus Tulane. This is about making sure that we've got a first-class, not only safety net hospital, but secondly we've also got a first-class teaching institution. Right now we're leaving millions of dollars, tens of millions, of federal graduate medical education dollars on the table because of our payer mix.
"Third, that we're doing a lot more research in this facility than we currently do. Right now we're leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table compared to what Houston and Birmingham are doing.
"And then finally fourth, that this is a regional destination, where people from outside the Greater New Orleans area are coming into this academic center because of the excellent care in the same way people now travel to Houston, Birmingham and other regional academic centers for their care."
The governor says test pilings will be going in the ground soon and, as far as he is concerned, nothing is going to stop this project.