A critic says the cost overrun-plagued F. Edward Hebert Hospital, designed to be the center of a naval complex here that was never built, should not be operated by anyone-the federal or state government or a private business. It should be closed because it's too expensive to keep open.
This opinion came today from Jessie Smallwood, executive director of the New Orleans Area Bayou River Health Systems Agency, the federally funded organization that has power over expenditures for hospitals.
Hospitals that oppose the agency's decisions may lose federal support as a consequence. There is an appeal process, but, so far, the agency's judgments never have been reversed.
"Just because the facility is there does not mean it necessarily should be used, Smallwood said today.
Use-or, rather, the lack of it-has been the cause of this hospital's troubles.
The $22 million facility, which originally was supposed to cost $11.7 million, was named after the man who spent 36 years representing Louisiana's 1st Congressional District, which includes the part of the state across the Mississippi River from downtown New Oleans.
The hospital was supposed to be part of a vast military expansion in that part of Hebert's district, but plans for it evaporated after the congressman lost his House Armed Services Committee chairmanship in January 1975.
By that time, the hospital already was being built, and it was dedicated on Dec. 7, 1976, Pearl Harbor Day. It has 250 beds, but a General Accounting Office study showed that, during fiscal year 1977, the average number occupied was 23.
Last September, the navy reduced its operation to the first floor out-patient clinic and put the rest of the six-story building up for bids. It was offered to federal agencies, but they all turned it down.
The Navy is considering four bids to take over the hospital, but Smallwood said yesterday that the cost of operating the structure would be prohibitive for any private or governmental agency. For example, she said the utility bill could be as much as $92,000 a month.
Not counting the hospital's 250 beds, "there are at least 1,000 beds too many in the metropolitan area," and they cost the taxpayers $20 million per year, a health systems agency statement said today.
To add the Hebert facility's beds to that total "would have an adverse effect upon the area's health-care system," Smallwood said.
Although she recommended closing the building, Smallwood said an evaluation of possible uses for the structure should be ready next month.
The study, being performed by experts from around the country, is based on the assumption that the recommendation for the hospital will not add to this area's "acute care beds"-the type the agency statment said are too plentiful already-said Smallwood.
Only alternative uses for the building are being considered, she said, without being more specific.