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Charity Hospital, New Orleans: The horrors of Hurricane Katrina

Bojan Ivanov

Charity Hospital was a public hospital in New Orleans. Three weeks after the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city authorities said that Charity Hospital would not reopen again. Charity Hospital and the nearby University Hospital were both teaching hospitals.

The Louisiana State University System owns the building, and their headquarters have indicated that they had no plans to reopen the hospital in its original location. The New City medical center was opened in another neighborhood in 2015.

It was decided that Charity Hospital was to be integrated into the new hospital. The Charity Hospital building has been left abandoned since 2005 and now its interior and exterior almost resemble the setting of a horror movie.

Charity Hospital on Tulane Avenue.Author: Infrogmation CC BY 2.5

Charity Hospital on Tulane Avenue.Author: Infrogmation CC BY 2.5

Before the serious flood damage during Hurricane Katrina, the Charity Hospital was one of the oldest hospitals in the United States.

It was established in May 1736, one year after the death of its benefactor, Jean Louis, a French sailor and shipbuilder who left money in his will for the building of a hospital for the poor in the colony of New Orleans.

Ambulance, 1912. Author: Internet Archive Book Images CC BY-SA 2.0

Ambulance, 1912. Author: Internet Archive Book Images CC BY-SA 2.0

In the beginning, the Charity Hospital was called the Hospital of Saint John, or L’Hopital des Pauvres de la Charite (The Charity Hospital for the Poor). The first charity hospital was situated in what is now known as the French Quarter.

New Orleans was founded by France in 1718 and the hospital was opened 18 years after the city’s foundation. It was the second oldest functional public hospital in the United States. Only Belleveue Hospital in New York is older. It was founded only a month earlier.

 

Through the years, as the city of New Orleans was spreading and developing, the hospital had to adapt to the needs of the era. The second building was built in 1743. After that, a third building was built in 1785.

This time the hospital was renamed San Carlos Hospital in honor of the King of Spain, because at the time New Orleans was under Spanish rule. This hospital was destroyed by a fire in 1809. A fourth hospital building was built in 1815. This one was known as a hospital with very bad conditions. The fifth building was erected in 1832.

This hospital was under the administration of the Sisters of Charity during the yellow fever epidemic in 1858, when 1,382 patients died of the disease. The sixth hospital building, now the abandoned Charity Hospital, was built in an Art Deco style in 1939. At the time, it was the second largest hospital in the United States.

Main entry of Charity Hospital.Author: Infrogmation CC BY 2.5

Main entry of Charity Hospital.Author: Infrogmation CC BY 2.5

Since the flood in 2005, the building of the Charity Hospital has been left abandoned. It has been slowly decaying because nobody cares anymore for the most beautiful building in New Orleans. The facade is falling down and the windows are broken.

But more frightening, and certainly more dangerous for visitors, is the interior of the building. The flood water caused massive damage: the basement and much of the mechanical equipment were totally destroyed. The morgue flooded as well and bodies were floating down the basement corridor. The rising floodwater trapped everyone inside, including patients and hospital staff, without food and drinkable water for over a week. Some patients were taken by helicopter to safety zones. Others died while waiting for help.

Evacuating by truck through flood waters. Author: Ben Record CC BY-SA 2.0

Evacuating by truck through flood waters. Author: Ben Record CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Charity Hospital in New Orleans closed after sustaining damage from Hurricane Katrina. Author: Vegasjon CC BY-SA 3.0

Charity Hospital in New Orleans closed after sustaining damage from Hurricane Katrina. Author: Vegasjon CC BY-SA 3.0

 

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.Author: Infrogmation CC BY 2.5

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.Author: Infrogmation CC BY 2.5

Rotting walls, damaged hospital equipment, and broken furniture are only a small part of the decaying chaos. Rotting body parts, like fingers and toes, and blood specimens were left in plastic bags in the hospital laboratories.

Medical skeletons were lying on the floor and on the desks. Bags of used needles and hazardous waste could also be found in the rooms and in the corridors. Rusty hospital beds and wheelchairs remind us that this was once a living hospital.

Gutted flood damaged waiting lounge Charity Hospital on Tulane Avenue Author: Infrogmation CC BY 2.5

Gutted flood damaged waiting lounge Charity Hospital on Tulane Avenue Author: Infrogmation CC BY 2.5

Public visits to the hospital are forbidden and every night there are police patrols in it. In January 2017, the project of cleaning the building started. The city authorities and the people of New Orleans want to restore this beautiful building, which is monumental of the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. The cleanupp projects include removing materials and non fixed equipment. The new purpose of the building is still unknown.