January 17, 2008.  Community Catalyst, a national consumer health advocacy organization, today lauded consumers in New Orleans for seeking to restore access to health care services on behalf of more than 100,000 uninsured individuals who lost these vital services in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

For the past two years and half years, the residents of New Orleans have experienced an unprecedented health crisis. Today, consumers took the bold step of filing a class action lawsuit challenging the 2005 closing of Charity Hospital in New Orleans, a state-funded hospital run by Louisiana State University. This lawsuit charges that closure of Charity Hospital has resulted in the termination of the plaintiffs’ entitlement to health care without the availability of viable alternatives within the hospital’s service area.  The basis of the lawsuit is a state law that requires legislative approval prior to the closure of any state hospitals. The suit argues that services and funding equivalent to their level prior to the hospital’s closure must be provided. 

Prior to its closure in October 2005, Charity Hospital provided free care to thousands of low-income patients suffering from serious medical conditions.  The lawsuit documents a number of problems facing consumer who previously were cared for at Charity Hospital, such as long-time New Orleans residents with chronic conditions who can no longer manage their illness because they don’t have the transportation or funds to get treated at private clinics farther afield. There are also cases of former free-care qualified Charity patients who have since been taken to private hospitals after emergency medical events, then held responsible for the enormous costs incurred at these involuntary visits.

“This lawsuit gives voice to tens of thousands of consumers whose lives were turned upside down by the impact of Hurricane Katrina,” said Susan Sherry, the Deputy Director of Community Catalyst, which hopes to work with consumer advocates in Louisiana to ensure a strong consumer voice in any effort to address health care issues in the state. 

Community Catalyst has led an effort to build consumer voices in health care across the country and is currently working with consumer organizations in over 30 states. Indeed, consumers in many states are taking the lead in advocating for a health care system that responds to the needs of all residents. In Vermont, consumer organizations have led recent efforts to expand insurance to the uninsured. In Missouri, consumer advocates played a critical role in restoring Medicaid benefits to disabled.

“The election of a new Governor and new legislature provides an opportunity for consumers, state government and LSU to come together to address the complaints of consumers in a way that makes the health care system work better for everyone,” Sherry added.  “It is our hope that this effort will result in a short-term solution that ensures those who require immediate treatment receive it, while developing a long-term plan to rebuild a health care system that better addresses the needs of all Louisiana’s residents, particularly those who cannot afford care.”

View the court petitionexhibits, and a brief fact sheet on the lawsuit that was filed.

About Community Catalyst
Community Catalyst is a national non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to quality affordable health care for all.  Since 1997, Community Catalyst has been working to build the consumer and community leadership required to transform the American health system.  With the belief that this transformation will happen when consumers are fully engaged and have an organized voice, Community Catalyst works in partnership with national, state and local consumer organizations, policymakers, and foundations, providing leadership and support to change the health care system so it serves everyone—especially vulnerable members of society.  For more information, visit www.communitycatalyst.org.