The Death of America’s oldest hospital

by | Nov 18, 2014 | Daughters of Charity, Vincentian Family | 1 comment

New Orleans Big CharityThe Death of America’s oldest hospital. Founded as a hospital for the poor, Charity Hospital technically opened their doors in 1736 and was built on the goodwill of a dying French merchant. It was run by the Daughters of Charity and served the city of New Orleans for close to 300 years.

Now there is an award winning documentary.

Big Charity: The Death of America’s Oldest Hospital includes never-before-seen footage and exclusive interviews that tell the story of Charity Hospital, from its early days to its controversial closing following Hurricane Katrina.

The Daughters began their ministry in health care in New Orleans at the beloved Charity Hospital in 1834; they continued there until the early part of this century.  The Daughters of Charity also established Hotel Dieu Hospital in 1859, a three story brick building located three blocks from their sister Hospital – Charity. Its purpose was to provide private health care to the large numbers of slaves and seamen in the city of New Orleans during the Civil War. The first patient admitted to Hotel Dieu on January 2, 1859 was “Moses” a slave. Residents of the South appreciated the services of a privately owned and operated hospital, particularly during the time when the practice of owning human property was in question.

Hotel Dieu was the only private hospital that remained open during the Civil War. The hospital was founded and managed by the Daughters of Charity from 1859 until the end of 1992 when it was sold to the State of Louisiana and renamed University Hospital. Despite the sale of Hotel Dieu in 1992, the Daughters of Charity continued to operate and manage Charity Hospital until 1996 when they refocused their efforts to primary care establishingaughters of Charity Foundation of New Orleans  (DCSNO).

Charity Hospital later became a public institution and grew into a huge establishment knows as Big Charity. But then Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005, and the hospital closed shortly thereafter. Since then, the massive art deco building has stood empty and fallen into disrepair and decay.

Most New Orleans natives have some memories about Charity Hospital – be it that they were born there, or their kids were, or they visited a loved one who was ill, or were treated there themselves. It was what hospitals should be – an integral member of society, so to speak, woven just as tightly into the fabric of any very familiar part of local society.

The 63-minute film offers firsthand accounts of hospital employees who withstood the Katrina’s wrath inside the hospital, and interviews key players involved in the hospital’s closing as well as CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senator Mary Landrieu, Dr. Juliette Saussy, former New Orleans EMS Director, Cecile Tebo, former NOPD Crisis Unit Commander, former Director of Health for the City of New Orleans Dr. Brobson Lutz, Chancellor of LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans Dr. Larry H. Hollier, Lt. Gen. Russell Honore, ret., and more.

The film was shown at the 2014 New Orleans Film Festival at two sold out screenings, everyone’s been talking about Big Charity ever since. Following the film premier, Big Charity was honored with the Festival’s prize for best Louisiana Feature and the Louisiana Feature Audience Award.

For more information please visit the Big Charity website and Facebook pages

See more stories of their work in New Orleans…

Compassionate, loving care for persons rejected by society

Sr. Hilary Ross DC and Carville


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