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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 asign for them with something tangible to say, 'oh, ok, now we have a management group.''

That isthe 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 afull-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 haveasked the government to move priority-five money and make it available for construction costs, at least aportion of the remaining $14 million so facilities planning can approve theproject, and it can go for bid when the design isready,'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 havebegun discussions with the Archdiocese ofNew Orleans onwhether an alternate site would be feasible and whether it wouldserve 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 theMeraux property and theArchdioceseproperty have their advantages and challenges. The next step is to determine which is best suitable for a hospital.

'If that isdone then the design work will be ontheway and can pick up speed, which means clearing work and site preparation can pick up speed and we can see some shovels in thedirt before the end of the year,'said Taffaro.

Landry said they expect to know which tract of land will bebest suitedfor hospital property sometime next week.

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