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Sweet Charity

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It’s part of the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans (MCLNO), but to most people it is still “Charity” or “Big Charity.” Opened in 1736, Charity Hospital has been in its sixth and current location since 1939. At that time it was the second largest hospital in the United States with 2,680 beds.

Its unofficial historian, Dr. John Salvaggio, says that “This institution has remained standing (sometimes barely) and caring for the population throughout the amazing history of Louisiana from epidemics, wars, hurricanes, pirates and politics.” It is very possible that politics took the heaviest toll of all those hazards.

Still, many people have counted on it over the years. Charity spokesman Jerry Romig recalled one of Edwin Edwards’ childhood stories in a recent Gambit article. “He and his brother boarded a Greyhound bus at Crowley, where they lived,” says Romig. “Their mother put them on the bus and told the driver to let them out at Charity to get their tonsils out.”

In early 1975 I reported for duty as the director of the state computer center at New Orleans. Our mission was to provide computing services to all the state agencies in N.O., and for that purpose a chunk of Charity was cleared and fitted to house a giant Honeywell computer and its support staff. Charity was expected to be our biggest customer.

The cultures of the hospital and the computer center were poles apart. Charity had a good reputation for patient care amid the chaos. Thirty years ago, the computer took in data in batches and paper circulated like a blizzard until some of it was collected to be keypunched.

Where the medical situation was care amid chaos, the computing operation was slow progress in a casual atmosphere. I remember an article from those days saying that the world of commerce was being held hostage by the “high priests of programming.”

This is the seventh column in a series that started at a column called “Wirth-less”.

Tomorrow – Fear and loathing on the bayou …

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About John Vinturella

Retired businessman and professor.