By Bill Barrow, The Times-Picayune, April 07, 2010
After losing his fight last year to keep New Orleans Adolescent Hospital open as an inpatient mental health facility, Rep. Neil Abramson has returned this year trying to ensure that the Uptown campus at least continues to house some kind of health-care operations.
This time, Abramson, D-New Orleans, and state Health Secretary Alan Levine, the architect of closing NOAH, are on the same side, agreeing on a compromise bill that would accomplish Abramson's aim while satisfying the state's effort to aid Children's Hospital expansion.
The House Natural Resources Committee approved the revised version of House Bill 1150, sending the measure to the House floor.
The bill would block the state from selling the NOAH campus, on the corner of Henry Clay Street and Leake Avenue, for at least a year. Thereafter, any buyer would have to provide health care or health-care education on the campus. If the buyer failed to meet that burden, Abramson said, the state would reclaim the property. The state would be free to lease the property immediately, as long as a tenant honored the health-care use requirement.
Abramson originally filed a bill to block the state from leasing or selling the property , while requiring that the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center ensure that "a portion of the facility ... be used for inpatient mental health care for adolescents and children."
The Department of Health and Hospitals opposed that measure, as it currently has no plans to use the facilities to house state offices or services. Levine said the revised version is reasonable, particularly because it leaves open the possibility of transferring the property to nearby Children's Hospital.
"Our primary interest is to ensure we leave all options on the table so LSU and Children's can negotiate an agreement that allows Children's Hospital the ability to develop a long-term solution their need for expansion," he said. "We want to allow them the ability to acquire, in whatever form, the property they need to have a sustainable growth strategy."
Gov. Bobby Jindal and Levine last year announced plans to close NOAH, shifting the inpatient beds to Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville and replacing its outpatient functions with clinics in Mid-City and Algiers. Abramson successfully won an amendment to the state budget bill that would have blocked the move, but Jindal used his line-item veto to strike the language, paving the way for the administration to carry out the closure late last summer.
The state acquired the property through a Dec. 16, 1981 transfer agreement from the federal government. That deal specified that the property would used for "general health care" services for 30 years, a period that expires in December 2011.
Before Katrina, the property primarily housed inpatient care for children and adolescents suffering from mental illness. After the storm devastated the city's mental health care infrastructure, the state used some beds for adults and added outpatient functions.
Bill Barrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 225.342.5590.