St. Bernard makes key step in journey towards hospital


by Susan Edwards / Eyewitness News

Posted on October 28, 2009 at 10:04 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 28 at 10:25 PM

CHALMETTE, La. -- St. Bernard leaders say residents are closer now than ever to breaking ground on a new hospital, more than four years after the storm destroyed the Chalmette Medical Center. Thursday night, the Hospital Service District Commission selected Franciscan Health Systems to manage the hospital. Chairman Wayne Landry said the firm also operates a hospital in Baton Rouge.

"There are so many exciting things going on behind the scenes to get this hospital constructed and built and operational by the end of 2011," he said. "This is a sign for them with something tangible to say, 'oh, ok, now we have a management group.'"

That is the latest step toward a new medical facility for the area. Meanwhile, hospital plans are on the drawing board, with blueprints set for completion by December, and construction bids to follow, said Landry.

The hospital will start off as a 40-bed hospital, and it can be expandible to over 100 beds.

"Initially we are going to have a full-service emergency room, medical-surgical care, we won't do OBGYN care or things of that nature, but as we bring in specialists we will expand our services," said Landry.

St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro said the funding issues are finally starting to fall into place.

"We have asked the government to move priority-five money and make it available for construction costs, at least a portion of the remaining $14 million so facilities planning can approve the project, and it can go for bid when the design is ready," said Taffaro.

But there remains one hurdle: the land on which the hospital will be built. The board has been in talks with the Meraux Foundation on 11 1/2 acres of land, but there is another option.

"We have begun discussions with the Archdiocese of New Orleans on whether an alternate site would be feasible and whether it would serve the purpose of a hospital compelx," said Taffaro.

That property would be anywhere from 20-25 acres, behind the government complex, part of the parish park system and the former Prince of Peace parish complex. But, Taffaro said both the Meraux property and the Archdiocese property have their advantages and challenges. The next step is to determine which is best suitable for a hospital.

"If that is done then the design work will be on the way and can pick up speed, which means clearing work and site preparation can pick up speed and we can see some shovels in the dirt before the end of the year," said Taffaro.

Landry said they expect to know which tract of land will be best suited for hospital property sometime next week.