St. Vincent's Hospital: Our downtown Titantic?

Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 5:31 p.m.

New York State Senator Thomas Duane relayed this message to the public last week: "I will continue to fight for the preservation of a 24-hour emergency room, widely available and culturally sensitive community-based primary care and the specialty services that have been at the core of St. Vincent's commitment to our Lower West Side neighborhoods and our city as a whole."

The board of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers voted to shut down the hospital's in-patient services as the operation finds itself millions of dollars in debt. The hospital's human resources department started handing out office termination slips to all of its employees on Monday. Each of them said the following: "This letter is to inform you that Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers will conduct employee separations. As a result, your position is being eliminated. This action is expected to be permanent."

According to Eileen Dunn, president of the St. Vincent's Nurses Union, her last day on the job will be sometime within the two weeks after April 20. St. Vincent's also has 400 inpatient beds. All elective surgeries were slated to end on Wednesday.

Many hospital workers felt they were misled into thinking that Mount Sinai Medical Center was set to take over the hospital and are demanding a public meeting with the board.

The people rallying to keep St. Vincent's Hospital are starting to look like the band that played as the Titanic sank. It's a sad day for the hospital, which was founded in 1849 to provide care to the poor; a sad day for the West Village, where the hospital resides; and a sad day for New York City.

"[We are unable] to save the inpatient services at the hospital that has proudly served Manhattan's West Side and downtown for 160 years," said Alfred E. Smith, the chairman of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers. "The decision to close St. Vincent's Hospital's Manhattan inpatient services was made only after the board, management and our advisers exhausted every possible alternative."

Last Thursday, New York Governor David Paterson released a proposal in a request for grant applications with the goal to offer "comprehensive ambulatory care, including basic medical imaging, laboratory services, use of electronic medical records, and accessibility to and the ability to provide rapid transit to full-service emergency room available for life-threatening conditions." This comes two months after Paterson provided a temporary loan to the hospital that remains down on its luck. New York State's Department of Health and the Dormitory Authority will run the grant application process, with all applications due by this Friday.

"I am confident that the other providers in the area will come forward with resourceful proposals to ensure that St. Vincent's patients continue to receive timely and high-quality care," declared Paterson.

Paterson hopes to keep some of St. Vincent's most important functions by relegating it to a center strictly for urgent care (i.e., dealing with heart attacks and broken bones) and keeping some outpatient services (primary care and HIV treatment). But that proposal would require a partner to hook up with St. Vincent's in order for it to work. Rumors circulated that Mount Sinai has still shown some interest, despite recently withdrawing a bid to keep St. Vincent's acute care hospital running.