NEW ORLEANS Five hours after State Rep. Neil Abramson told City Council members a plan was underway for Children's Hospital to reopen the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital as a mental health facility, Children's Hospital officials said they were 'puzzled' by his announcement.
But then the state lawmaker later said that he too was surprised by Children's Hospital's reaction, since he said he has seen a copy of a lease agreement for the site, which is now owned by the state.
Earlier in the day, at the start of Thursday morning's City Council meeting, Abramson, D-New Orleans, and two other state lawmakers said negotiations were underway to reopen the shuttered mental health hospital, which was hailed as a step towards easing the local mental health care crisis.
The hospital, known as NOAH, is located near Children's Hospital main campus. It was closed four years ago by Gov. Bobby Jindal's Department of Health and Hospitals, with services shifted to the north shore. Children's has since been offering mental health services at the former DePaul Hospital, on its Calhoun St. campus.
In its statement sent this afternoon, Children's Hospital acknowledged that it had discussed the NOAH property with Abramson and other local lawmakers recently, but the hospital seemed to question the timing of his announcement.
'We are puzzled that Rep. Abramson would make a public announcement without consultation with our leadership. We hope that will meet with us shortly to explain the reasons for his announcement,' said the statement from Cathleen Randon, public affairs director for Children's Hospital.
Children's statement acknowledges that the NOAH property would meet a growing demand for services, but the hospital also seems to be stalling any expansion plans because of the age and condition of the building.
'We articulated the hospital's position that relocating mental health services from the Calhoun Campus to the deteriorated NOAH campus would not be economically feasible,' reads the statement.
Abramson told City Council members that Children's would offer both inpatient and outpatient services to mentally ill children at the NOAH campus. Abramson was joined at the council meeting by Rep. Jared Brossett and Rep. Jeff Arnold.
Abramson said the NOAH deal was still being negotiated, and there was no specific timetable for its reopening. He and others at Thursday's meeting said the loss of the hospital only contributed to the city's mental health care crisis.
'In 2012 alone, more than 1,000 kids showed up at an emergency room hospital in New Orleans, seeking mental health treatment,' Rep. Abramson said.
Beyond that, though, there are few options.
'It's about equal access to care, at its core,' said Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, who also attended the council meeting. 'We have serious mental and behavioral health issues in our city and in our state.'
The closest facility to New Orleans for in-patient mental health care is in Mandeville. Its distance from the city was highlighted last November, when 13-year-old Jeremiah Williams died. While en route to that facility, he jumped out of a Department of Health and Hospitals van while it was stopped along I-10 in Metairie. Williams was struck and killed by a tow truck.
'Particularly after Katrina, we have had just a terrible deficit in mental health and just not enough services wholesale,' said Dr. Arwen Podesta, a psychiatrist.
City Council members welcomed the news, while adding that mental health care for others remains dire.
'Although we know that our young people need these services in a desperate way, our adult population does as well,' said District B City Council Member LaToya Cantrell.