The new 215,000-square-foot New Orleans East Hospital is scheduled to open June 26. It will replace the Pendleton Memorial Methodist Hospital, on whose former site it is being built. It will also replace the still-closed Lakeland Medical Center.
Their closures had left residents without nearby access to inpatient and emergency care. The next closest hospital was nine miles away — too far for some to travel.
The new hospital, which is expected to serve about 98,000 residents, has been much anticipated and too long in coming, many say.
“It is most needed, and it has been needed since 2005,” said Hilda Boyd, who has lived in the area since 1974. For the last nine years, she and her husband have traveled 16 miles to an emergency triage center whenever they have needed medical care.
“Using the interstate, it’s about 20 minutes,” Mrs. Boyd said, “unless there’s a problem getting across the high-rise.”
Though planning for a new hospital began immediately after Hurricane Katrina, its development was held up by politics and red tape — even as a retail revival swept the area, bringing in a Walmart and the Swilling Center, a strip mall.
“For some reason, after the storm there was not a will to rebuild that hospital,” said Terrel Broussard, chairman of the New Orleans East Business and Development District, which worked to bring a hospital back to the area. The organization’s efforts were funded with more than $1 million from the Methodist Healthcare Foundation, which ran Pendleton Methodist.
But plans for the new hospital dragged on as community leaders studied how best to replace the closed facilities. The situation was later exacerbated by the New Orleans Mayor’s Office, which saw a change in leadership in 2010.
“We had several what we considered ace proposals that were available, but then-Mayor Nagin never acted on them,” Mr. Broussard said. When Ray Nagin was replaced by Mitchell Landrieu, Mr. Broussard said, the new mayor “basically went back and reengineered and redid all of the work that had been done in the past three years.”
Residents and community leaders said the area has long been overlooked, though they disagree about the cause.
“New Orleans East has always been a part of the city that’s been forgotten,” said Beverly Greenwood, administrator of the Lafon Nursing Facility of New Orleans East.
Mr. Broussard agrees. “We had to fight for everything here,” he said. “We had to fight for electricity, we had to fight for water. It was a constant struggle for everything.”
He said he is not sure why, especially given the the area’s large, civically active African-American community, which contributes substantially to New Orleans’s economic base.
“Forty-nine percent of the tax revenue, of the revenue base of the city of New Orleans, is out here. Forty-nine percent,” Mr. Broussard said. “Close it down, you’re dead.”