Charity Hospital (New Orleans)

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Coordinates: 29°57′19″N 90°04′41″W / 29.955383°N 90.077957°W / 29.955383; -90.077957

Charity Hospital building on Tulane Avenue

Charity Hospital was one of two teaching hospitals which were part of the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans (MCLNO). Three weeks after the events of Hurricane Katrina, then Governor Kathleen Blanco said that Charity Hospital would not reopen, even though the military had scrubbed the building to medical-ready standards.[1] The Louisiana State University System, which owns the building, had stated that it has no plans to reopen the hospital in its original location, choosing instead to incorporate it into the city's new medical center[2] in the lower Mid-City neighborhood.[3]


Charity Hospital was one of several public hospitals around the state of Louisiana administered by the Louisiana State University System at the time of Hurricane Katrina. Charity Hospital and the nearby University Hospital were both teaching hospitals affiliated with the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO). University Hospital, now officially called Interim LSU Hospital, and the adjacent Tulane Medical Center remain open.

Prior to Katrina, Charity Hospital operated in the New Orleans Hospital District at 1532 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112-1352. The building is approximately six-tenths of a mile on the opposite side of I-10 from Interim LSU Hospital.


Ambulance, 1912

Charity Hospital was founded on May 10, 1736, by a grant from Jean Louis, a French sailor and shipbuilder, who died in New Orleans the year before. His last will and testament was to finance a hospital for the indigent in the colony of New Orleans from his estate.

Charity Hospital was originally named the Hospital of Saint John or L’Hôpital des Pauvres de la Charité (The Charity Hospital for the Poor). The first Charity Hospital was located on the intersection of Chartres Street and Bienville Street in what is now the French Quarter. The hospital was founded 18 years after the city was founded by France in 1718. It is the second oldest continually operated public hospital in the United States. Only Bellevue Hospital in New York City is older, having been founded a month earlier, on March 31, 1736.

Charity Hospital quickly outgrew its original facility, and a second hospital was built at the edge of the colony on Basin Street in 1743. A third hospital was built nearby in 1785. It was renamed the San Carlos Hospital in honor of King Charles III, King of Spain, after New Orleans was ceded to Spain in 1763.

The old Charity Hospital building at the start of the 20th century

A fire destroyed this hospital in 1809. Without a building, a temporary hospital was established at the Cabildo for a month, then at the Jourdan residence in the Faubourg Marigny for six months, then the dilapidated De La Vergne plantation for 5 years while a fourth hospital was built. This new hospital was built at the edge of the city on Canal Street where the The Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel is currently located. The hospital was completed in 1815, but this hospital was widely criticized as inadequate and underfunded.

A fifth hospital was built within Girod, Gravier, St. Mary, and Common Streets in the Faubourg St. Marie in 1832. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1858, 2727 patients were admitted and of them 1382 died of the disease. Total patient admission that year was 11,337, being 9135 males and 2202 females.[4] This hospital came under the administration of the Sisters of Charity, who would run the hospital for the next century. Under their care, Charity Hospital, partnered with the Medical College of the University of Louisiana.

By the 20th century, the city of New Orleans was rapidly expanding, and the demand for indigent medical services again exceeded Charity Hospital capacity. A sixth hospital was built on Tulane Avenue in 1939. At the time it was the second largest hospital in the United States with 2,680 beds.

Main entry of Charity Hospital

The building's cornerstone lists the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (later called the Public Works Administration) as the building authority. The architects were Weiss, Dreyfous & Seiferth, who were also responsible for the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge. The hospital features two stone bas-reliefs and a cast-aluminum screen called Louisiana at Work and Play, all by artist Enrique Alférez.

The new LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO) was built adjacent to Charity Hospital in 1931 under the aegis of Louisiana Governor Huey Pierce Long.[5] Serving one of the largest populations of uninsured citizens, Charity Hospital also boasted the #2 Level I Trauma Center in the nation, with the #1 rank belonging to Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1968, the hospital lost a malpractice case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Louise Levy, Administratrix v. Louisiana through the Charity Hospital of Louisiana at New Orleans Board of Administrators, et al., the court ruled that a child born out of wedlock could not be prevented from suing on behalf of a deceased parent.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Human Resources (DHH) took control of Charity Hospital in 1970. The hospital was transferred to the Louisiana Health Care Authority (LHCA) in 1991 and to the LSU System in 1997.

Hurricane Katrina[edit]

Like its sister hospital, University Hospital, Charity Hospital sustained severe flood damage during Hurricane Katrina. The evacuation of patients from the flooded hospital made national headlines. After the storm, a temporary clinic named the Spirit of Charity was established at the Convention Center. The temporary Spirit of Charity Clinic was later relocated to the New Orleans Centre building adjacent to the Superdome, but by February 2007, a renovated University Hospital had taken over the responsibilities of emergency care to the city which Charity originally provided.[6] The future of Charity Hospital itself remains in question. LSU Health Sciences Center has announced that it is planning to build a new $1.2 billion modern facility nearby named the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans (MCLNO). The new hospital will consolidate the functions of both Charity Hospital and University Hospital. There is speculation that the Art Deco hospital building will become a historical site.

Campaign to Rebuild Charity Hospital[edit]

The Foundation for Historical Louisiana, as charged in HCR 89 of the 2006 Louisiana Legislature, hired the internationally renowned architectural firm, RMJM Hillier, to “…examine and evaluate the entire Big Charity structure to determine the advisability of repairing or restructuring the entire facility.” RMJM Hillier determined the building to be structurally sound—with its original design being architecturally exceptional and “ahead of its time.” Rehabilitation into a 21st-century, state-of-the-art facility would be the fastest, most cost-effective way to return quality healthcare and a teaching hospital to New Orleans. This vision was scrubbed in favor of building a new teaching hospital and V.A. Medical Center in the adjacent neighborhood of lower Mid-City. Many of the homes in the neighborhood were moved or demolished to make way for the project and construction of these new facilities is currently underway.

In May 2008 The National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the hospital building on its list of America's Most Endangered Places.[7]


Charity Hospital was featured in the TLC documentary series, Code Blue. The series documented the lives of the hospital physicians and their patients. The episodes often illustrated the rate of violence in New Orleans by chronicling the high volume of patients who were treated in the emergency department with gunshot or stab wounds.

Charity Hospital was also featured in two episodes of TLC's Trauma: Life in the ER, which focused on Charity's emergency room, the busiest emergency room in the United States at the time.

Charity Hospital was also in an episode of NY Med, where a doctor reminisces of his time spent at the hospital before it closed down.


"Big Charity," a documentary film by Alexander John Glustrom tells the untold story behind the death of Charity Hospital and unveils the truth about one of the largest single payouts of federal disaster funds in state history.[8]


The last days of Charity Hospital were documented in Jim Carrier's 26,000-word eBook, "CHARITY - The Heroic and Heartbreaking Story of Charity Hospital in Hurricane Katrina" (Ranger Media 2015 ISBN 9781508018247).

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Charity replaced". 
  3. ^ Plans for new LSU-VA hospital campus expected to come this week, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nov. 23, 2008.
  4. ^ September 3, 1859 Harper's Weekly article titled The New Orleans Charity Hospital on pages 569 and 570.
  5. ^ Long established the LSU School of Medicine adjacent after the adjacent Tulane University School of Medicine demonstrated its independence from the governor's control. See Alton Ochsner.
  6. ^ CNN. Patients finally rescued from Charity Hospital.
  7. ^ Threats to history seen in budget cuts, bulldozers - Yahoo! News
  8. ^

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