In an interview this afternoon, State Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, told Gambit that he did not inform Children's Hospital of his plan to announce the reopening of New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (NOAH) before he appeared before the New Orleans City Council this morning. Children's disputed the announcement this afternoon in a statement.
But Abramson pointed out that the lease agreement for the NOAH property, signed by Children's, requires that the portion formerly housing the hospital "shall be administered, managed and operated so as to provide mental health care, including inpatient and outpatient services" consistent with the services provided before the hospital was closed by the Jindal Administration in 2009.
Representatives from Children's Hospital did not immediately return requests for comment.
“It specifically details how this property’s going to be handled, and part of that had to be was the piece about how the property’s going to be used," he said, adding that the law allowing for the lease also provided the same stipulations. “Act 867 of state law particularly requires that the property be used for mental health services.”
Children's signed the agreement in January. Asked why he didn't announce it until today, Abramson the State Division of Administration was in possession of the contract, and he wasn't aware of it until earlier this month.
Act 867 gave Children's the right of first refusal to the lease, a provision Abramson wanted.
“I’m the one that made it happen that Children’s hospital got the exclusive right of first refusal," he said. “There are others out there, but Children’s is the best partner.”
If Children's did not sign the lease by Feb. 1, 2013, the state would be allowed to offer the property to the highest bidder, which would also have to use the NOAH portion for mental health services, Abramson said. However, once it signed, the lease gives Children's two years to bring NOAH up to code. Children's signed just one week before the deadline. Asked if he thought the hospital signed merely to buy time to negotiate a sale or some other agreement, Abramson said he didn't know because he wasn't involved in negotiations.
He said that he is open to plans other than reopening NOAH, from Children's or another entity, but only if they involve the expansion of mental health services in New Orleans or the immediate area.
However, as of today, “the only concrete proposal on the table was NOAH," he said.
Read the lease agreement: Executed_Lease_Agreement_1-25-13.pdf
Read Abramson's press release:
NEW ORLEANS, LA. — In an address to the New Orleans City Council today, State Representative Neil Abramson (D — New Orleans) announced a long term lease agreement between Children’s Hospital and the State of Louisiana allowing Children’s to re-open the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (NOAH) and provide mental health care for children and adolescents. Even though Abramson and his colleagues in the legislature funded NOAH, the Jindal administration closed NOAH in 2009 citing economic reasons and sent more than thirty patients to facilities as far away as the Northshore’s Southeast Louisiana Hospital. Last month, the Jindal administration agreed to allow a private company to operate the Northshore hospital and offer psychiatric care to patients. Abramson was an outspoken critic of sending our New Orleans children and adolescents far from home for mental health care. He advocated strongly for a partnership between NOAH and Children’s Hospital to find a solution to the challenge of protecting our youth and providing mental health services for children and adolescents.
Abramson told the council, “I have been through four years of detailed and tough negotiations to find a solution to the closing of NOAH. Louisiana and Children’s Hospital, with my legislative assistance and that of my colleagues, came together and reached an agreement. As part of that signed Agreement, Children’s Hospital is to re-open NOAH and provide out-patient services and in-patient care for our children and adolescents who are suffering from some form of mental health illness. I am very proud of the work done by the great doctors, administrators and staff at Children’s Hospital. It is an honor to represent the facility in my district. Like many, I treasure the expertise of the medical team at Children’s. I am here today to publicly thank Children’s Hospital for recognizing the need for mental health services for our youth and for caring enough to be a part of healing that will make our city stronger. I can’t imagine a better partner for our State than Children’s to address such a meaningful and monumental issue.” Pat Roy, former President of Friends of NOAH and a mental health community participant said, “It is so uplifting to have Representative Abramson as an advocate for providing mental health care for our youth. It is critical to our community to supply mental health services to our children.”
The details of the negotiation and timeline for re-opening the NOAH facility were not released at the council meeting, but will be soon. Cecile Tebo, former head of the New Orleans Police Department's Mobile Crisis Unit and a mental health expert said, “It is essential to diagnose and treat mental health issues at an early age. Representative Abramson has brought this issue to the forefront and it is great to have him as a progressive leader for this important issue.” Over 5 million American children now suffer some form of mental illness. Abramson represents District 98 in Uptown New Orleans.