The F. Edward Hebert Naval Hospital, which was designed as a monument to the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who represented Louisiana's First Congressional District for 36 years, will be closed Sept. 27 because almost nobody has used it.
The 250-bed hospital, which cost $22 million, will be leased to the nearby Jo Ellen Smith Hospital, a private facility. Both are in Algiers, which is across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orelans.
By leasing the naval hospital, Jo Ellen Smith will save the $4 million to $5 million it had planned to spend on expansion, and the Navy estimates it will save some $2 million per year by fiscal 1980.
In initial plans, the hospital was supposed to be a 100-bed facility costing about $11.7 million. However, in 1974, $3.4 million more was added to the project, and an additional $3.7 million followed the next year.
After it opened on Pearl Harbor Day 1976, the hospital cost about $7.7 million per year to operate.
Following a surprise visit to the hospital in January, Reps. M. Robert Carr (D-Mich.) and Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.) described it as (a beautiful, expensive and shamefully underused medical facility" in a letter to Navy Secretary W. Graham Clayton.
When it built the hospital, the Navy was "incredibly inept in its planning projections," the congressmen said. A general accounting office study showed that during fiscal 1977 the average number of the hospital's 250 beds occupied was 23.
However, Capt. F.C. Gregg, commander of the Naval Support Station that includes the hospital, said that the facility is "very busy" with "extensive outpatient services."
The hospital was planned to be part of a massive military expansion in his district while Hebert was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
However, he lost his chairmanship in January 1975 and the expansion was never realized.
"The people never came," said one of Hebert's former staffer. "But by that time the hospital was already underway."
Hebert's former employe, who did not wish to be identified describes the situation as "politics at its flat-out best - or worst. It's as simple as that."
Although Hebert has retired, Rep. Hebert L. Livingston Jr. (R-La.), his successor, still catches heat about the hospital, a member of his New Orleans staff said. "I get calls all day long about how much money it's costing, and other people are worried about losing the medical service."
Replacing the naval facility will be a Naval Regional Medical Clinic, which will provide outpatient care for area personnel authorized to receive it. Inaptient facilities will be available at New Orleans' U.S. Public Health Service Hospital.
Although it is surrendering administration of the hospital, the Navy retains the right to regain control of it in a national emergency.