NOLAmotion Blog

January 27, 2010

Thoughts on the LSU hospital plans

Now that the issue (fill in the blank based on your views/knowledge: is, appears to be, might be, might never be) settled, it’s time to discuss what will happen next. We need to focus on better building techniques, sustainability and resource management. The demolition of buildings needs to be well managed. We must recycle as much of the irreplaceable old-growth lumber and components as possible. There should be a consortium of all the city’s materials recycling entities to handle this. NOLARecycles and the Green Collaborative represent collective efforts and can be tapped for expertise.

There will be lead paint issues, asbestos issues. But we have an enormous opportunity to set new examples of Best Practices in recycling and re-use, and that means economic development. Now is the time for leaders of the Biosciences District to seek assistance from area green organizations and leadership. I can see several sites processing these materials and the possibility of reinvigorating our rebuilding resource organizations with this effort.

A huge concern of this project is water management. Stormwater runoff from this site will be copious. There are many in this area who are well-versed in sustainable development techniques. We must make this site a shining example that exceeds anything ever built in New Orleans when it comes to water systems and ecological footprint. The development team needs to delve deeply into Low Impact Development principles, Regenerative Design techniques and Biomimicry concepts. These should be Living Buildings where healing takes place with the assistance of Nature. And they need to be leading examples of resilience and mitigation. We can make the hospitals state of the art in more than just medicine, but also in how to build in our hot, humid, windy environment and for our soil types.

There’s no doubt this project can be measured in both dollars and lives. There’s no doubt Charity Hospital was prevented from opening in the months after the flood by those seeking to build the new hospital. We can (and probably will) debate this issue for decades; because, for too many, the cost was measured in the loss of loved ones like Cayne Miceli. And there is no doubt that far too many of those lives were lost due to a plethora of failures that reach their nadir in the mismanagement and brutality of the operations of Orleans Parish Prison. Unfortunately for us, today’s funding decision changes nothing about life in New Orleans in that regard until both the hospital and new jail are completed, years from now.

So I say it’s time for us to come together and make these entities the best they can be. There will be opportunities for involvement, for cooperation and compromise in the coming days. I intend to do my part, and hope that everyone who worked so hard on both sides will do theirs, to ensure that these projects make New Orleans stronger and become the kind of assets that will improve our lives and economy.

Let’s not settle for the same kind of management, design and construction practices of the past. As yesterday’s Green Collaborative Platform for Candidates proposes, we know how to grow the economy of New Orleans. These hospitals need to be catalysts for green/sustainable development. It’s time to step up, demand the best and build our future.

September 22, 2009

Cayne Miceli Ordeal Included in Justice Dept Report That Declares Sheriff Gusman’s Orleans Parish Prison “Violates the Constitutional Rights of Inmates”

See Nola.com story here.

Orleans Parish Prison and Sheriff Marlin Gusman run a hell hole. The United States Department of Justice, in a 32 page report, spells it out in great detail. And perhaps now something will be done.

After the maiming and deaths of so many people, such as our dear, beautiful friend Cayne Miceli, it’s past time for change. The report is scathing and detailed, and perhaps will help us make that change.

The main fact stated by the report is that “we find that certain conditions at OPP violate the constitutional rights of inmates.” The report further states that “we find that inmates confined at OPP are not adequately protected from harm, including physical harm from excessive force by staff and inmate-on-inmate violence.” It continues, “we find that inmates do not receive adequate mental health care, including proper suicide prevention.” And completing the trifecta of tribulation for anyone with a health condition requiring medication, “we found specific deficiencies in medication management.”

Adding insult to injury, the report found that inmates “face serious risks posed by inadequate environmental and sanitation conditions.”

So, not only is the jail a medieval torture chamber where brutality, poor mental health standards and abominable management of medication can cause death; but, it is a filthy slime pit and potential incubator of disease. Oh, and it has inadequate fire safety standards, too.

The report goes into great legal detail in support of its findings. Then it gets into the meat of the Findings with this paragraph:

“We find that OPP fails to adequately protect inmates from harm and serious risk of harm from staff and other inmates; fails to provide inmates with adequate mental health care; fails to provide adequate suicide prevention; fails to provide adequate medication management; fails to provide safe and sanitary environmental conditions; and fails to provide adequate fire safety precautions.”

Under Finding A, INADEQUATE PROTECTION FROM HARM under item l: Unnecessary and Inappropriate Use of Force, the report states that “We believe there is a pattern and practice of unnecessary and inappropriate uses of force” and goes into detail regarding officers “openly engaged in abusive and retaliatory conduct which resulted in serious injuries to inmates.” The report then delves into OPP records to illustrate examples of brutal incidents.

The report in Item 1 goes into detail regarding Inadequate Policies and Procedures, Inadequate Use of Force Reporting, Inadequate Management Review of Use of Force, and Lack of Investigative Policies and Procedures.

Finding A-2 is that OPP has an Inadequate Classification System that results in inmates being improperly grouped, and produces a situation where “there is very little to safeguard against housing predatory inmates with vulnerable inmates. Not surprisingly, we found a disturbingly high number of assaultive incidents in the multiple occupancy cells.”

Finding A-3 covers Inmate-on-Inmate Assaults, going into detail on 10 incidents between May 2007 and August 2008 calling the situation “a systemic level of violence that poses a serious risk of harm to both inmates and correctional staff at the jail.”

Finding A-4 covers Inadequate Staffing and Inmate Supervision, which explains much about Finding A-2. But this section slams management of the prison, stating that “we found that OPP operates its facility without a staffing plan or analysis to establish the minimum number of security staff needed to safely manage OPP’s population.” This speaks directly to the fact that we elect whomever is popular to be sheriff. Gusman, whose prior positions in city government were purely administrative, is not a lawman or prison specialist. And evidently he hasn’t hired the kind of staff who follow basic guidelines such as this one regarding how many people it takes to safely run a prison with a large population of inmates. Does he rely on any other agencies to help him fill staff shortages when they occur? This report indicates that he has no plan.

On some occasions, the Justice Department report reveals, only a dozen officers were on duty to supervise 900 inmates! Here’s another disturbing quote, “On these occasions, the majority of the multiple occupancy cells housed more than 10 inmates and four of the eight floors had only one officer responsible for over 140 inmates.” If that nightmare doesn’t get you, how about this regarding staffing of the second largest facility at OPP, the Tents, “we found several instances during February 2007 thru May 2008 where the inmate average daily population was more than 580 and the facility had only seven officers on shift.” Of course this “places both inmates and staff at risk.”

There is a typo/flaw in the report, rather than Finding B it jumps to Finding C, (this is a typo, not indicative of anything missing from the report) INADEQUATE MENTAL HEALTH AND MEDICAL CARE. This is where the report obviously refers to Cayne Miceli’s case, though she is listed anonymously as “H.H.” Here is the section in its entirety. Note HOD stands for House of Detention.

“On January 6, 2009, H.H., a 43-year-old woman, stopped breathing while in restraints at OPP. H.H. was sent to HOD-10 hours after intake because she was considered hostile and suicidal. While in HOD-10, H.H. was placed in five-point restraints even after she repeatedly complained of asthma and breathing distress. H.H. did not receive physician or psychiatric care to determine if medication was appropriate or if placing an asthmatic individual in a five-point restraint was acceptable. Although she was under direct observation, H.H. was reportedly seen attempting to get out of the restraints. As OPP staff intervened and placed her in the restraints, H.H.’s body went limp. OPP medical staff responded to assess her condition. She was sent to the emergency room, where she was later pronounced dead.”

This is surely a brief and grossly incomplete telling of the horrors Cayne faced on her date with death at the hands of Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s staff– if indeed there were enough officers there that day to run the jail to satisfy his (now proven inadequate) level of standards.

The report also tells the horrible stories of two other inmates who in 2008 were placed in the restraint systems for more than 24 hours in one case and more than 35 hours in the other.

The damning evidence continues, “OPP has neither a restraint chair nor a safe cell. Inmates are restrained to metal beds affixed to a cell wall. The positioning of the bed prohibits 360 degree access to the inmate and, ironically, is itself a suicide hazard as even restrained individuals can strangle themselves by affixing clothing or sheets to this type of bed.”

I won’t go on with more details. We all know that OPP is a hell hole. But now it’s official,  OPP is a threat to the health of all who are incarcerated and/or work there.

The Justice Department politely concludes the report with a pledge to assist and cooperate in helping OPP implement remedies. And it equally politely states that if “we are unable to reach a resolution regarding our concerns, the Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit,” and gives Sheriff Gusman “49 days after appropriate officials have been notified” to get started.

With the elections coming up, this report is damning of Gusman’s management and care, not only of the inmates and citizens of New Orleans, but of his own staff. I find this whole situation reprehensible and outrageous. I hope and pray the people of New Orleans wake up to this horror within our own government. And I also hope that the local papers cover this story in much greater detail than today’s rather short online story.

Cayne Miceli was killed by a chain of events that involved our health care system and our justice system. She received neither care or justice. She was spit-out by a for-profit hospital, then brutally handled by the justice system and died a torturous death at the hands of under-supervised public servants in a jail that is now declared a violation of our Constitution. Welcome to New Orleans, Louisiana U.S.A. in the 21st Century.

If Charity Hospital had been up and running, something we all know was possible within months of the flood and surely by January 2009, Cayne would be alive today. If Tulane/Hospital Corporation of America lived up to the highest principle of care for its patients, Cayne would have never been arrested. And if Sheriff Marlin Gusman was good at his job, his jail would not be a cesspool into which people go in whole and come out damaged or dead.

Our taxes support all these institutions and their managers, including Tulane/HCA. As we strive to make New Orleans whole again, we cannot allow these fundamental systems to operate in this manner.

And we cannot continue to elect incompetent people to positions of power, for it is killing us, quite literally.

Previous stories:

Cayne Micelie R.I.P.

“I think that we gave her maybe the best medical care that we could have given her”

Sheriff all but admits guilt in killing of Cayne Miceli

April 4, 2008

I’ve got a new job

On Monday, March 17 I started a new job as the Crescent City Area Housing Agent at the LSU AgCenter. I’m going to be responsible for educational outreach to consumers, builders and others seeking to rebuild safer, smarter and more sustainably. It’s not a clearly defined role and it crosses into many areas such as storm resistance, energy efficiency and sustainability. Since I’m a longtime advocate for better building and am actively involved in helping bring sustainable building resources to the area; and, since I finally passed the Home Energy Rater Systems (HERS) test (thanks to Southface Energy Institute), am a licensed real estate agent and have a strong background in communications, the folks at the AgCenter tapped me to find ways to reach and assist people in a multi-parish area. It’s a big job.

I’m just getting started learning about all the many services and programs at the LSU AgCenter. One of the primary sources for me will be the Louisiana House (check out the site, its a great resource for Louisiana-specific building research and information to help you save energy and build smarter), a project of the AgCenter.

It’s a fun place to work and I know I’m going to be able to make a difference as a partner in the rebuilding of the area. Watch this space for updates.

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