New Hospitals Rise in Post-Katrina New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — Among the losses of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding it brought to the Gulf Coast, perhaps one of the greatest blows was the destruction of vital structures like a VA medical hospital in New Orleans, La. Now the Department of Veterans Affairs is constructing a replacement, which is intended to provide a massive upgrade over the previous facility. Major hurricanes have been known to devastate local medical services, leaving them crippled for years in some cases. Hurricane Katrina knocked out seven of 16 hospitals in the area for over two years, while Hurricane Andrew took four hospitals down for over a year near Miami.

The new medical center will be located in a biomedical district currently developing in downtown New Orleans. VA officials said that the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care Center will not only outclass its predecessors in terms of health care capabilities, but also in its physical preparedness for sustaining a Katrina-type event. The Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care Center, the local VA health care provider, designed the facility to be flexible and able to adapt to changes in hospital organization and functions in the future.

Local company, Clark-McCarthy Healthcare Partners is heading up the project through an integrated design and construct agreement. The new building will better fit the VA’s missions, which include education, research and national preparedness for incidents like Katrina, in addition to the primary task of caring for veterans themselves.

In order to prepare for the structural challenge of a flooding even like the one Katrina caused, the SLVHCS designed the new medical center “upside down.” Services typically housed on the ground floor or basement, such as the kitchen and access points for utilities, have been moved to the fourth level. All essential services will be at least 20 feet above ground.

The second order of business was to make the facility capable of operating independently of the city’s infrastructure. The new medical center has a seven-day strategy to self-sustain with up to 1,000 occupants. Though patient rooms are designed to be single occupancy, they are equipped with all the services necessary to house two people per room. The facility’s energy plant stores 320,000 gallons of fuel, enough for a full week, and can collect and store more than a million gallons of rainwater on-site in case city water is contaminated or unavailable. There is also a 6,000-square-foot warehouse on-site to store emergency supplies. The windows were designed to survive at least Category 3 hurricane winds. The medical center is accessible by hospital or boat and travel from building to building can be accomplished entirely indoors. The hospital will also feature a fully securable perimeter in case of “civil unrest or national emergency.”

Hopefully none of these measures will ever have to be used and the facility will simply be known for serving more than 70,000 veterans throughout the region. “Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast and left the New Orleans health care system in ruins,” commented SLVHCS Director Julie Catellier. “What we’re building today ensures care for veterans in the future.”

Next door to the VA project, Louisiana State University (LSU) is designing a University Medical Center, with East Coast firm, Skanska USA Building, and New Orleans native, MAPP Construction LLC, earning the preconstruction assignment. Seattle-based NBBJ will serve as architect.

The new center will consist of a 560,000-square-foot hospital with 424 beds; a 747,000-square-foot diagnostic and treatment center; and a 546,000-square-foot, 1,350-car parking structure. Along with the VA and other groups, LSU is contributing to what will soon be a robust medical district for students and patients.

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