The Villager: Hospital can’t close

Thomas K. Duane

March 03, 2010

As the clock continues to tick on St. Vincent’s Hospital’s survival,
it’s only making it increasingly clear that Greenwich Village — as
well as all of Manhattan south of 59th St. — simply cannot afford to
lose this key healthcare institution.

Without St. Vincent’s, the Lower West Side would have its health
safety net ripped out from beneath it. East Side hospitals would be
overwhelmed picking up the slack, particularly in emergency room
visits, while patients would be at increased risk: Accounts of people
whose lives have been saved because St. Vincent’s was nearby when they
suffered a heart attack are myriad.

But as time goes by, it’s also becoming evident that the effort to
save St. Vincent’s is huge. The governor so far has been supportive,
loaning the hospital several million dollars to help keep it alive
these past few weeks.

There is encouraging news on the federal front, as local politicians
are putting on a full-court press to try to get the Department of
Housing and Urban Development to refinance St. Vincent’s mortgage. If
that’s feasible, the hospital would be in far better shape, since its
massive debt would be secured against default; lenders would be more
willing to give money to the hospital, helping it pull itself out of
its desperate financial straits.

Also, St. Vincent’s is trying to divest itself of non-core services in
order to ensure the protection of its Greenwich Village hospital
campus, with its acute care and E.R., plus valued services, such as
its H.I.V. clinic and psychiatric unit: Three nursing homes and a
Westchester hospital will be put up for sale.

Our local politicians are trying any and all means to save St.
Vincent’s; Congressmember Jerrold Nadler and Council Speaker Christine
Quinn reportedly tried to see if the Brooklyn bishop could help, but
he couldn’t. There are rumors of an appeal to the Vatican bank.

But the only thing that will really save the hospital in the current
healthcare climate is a merger. Unfortunately for St. Vincent’s, much
of its current financial plight stems from an unsuccessful merger in
2000 with other Catholic hospitals, which helped cause St. Vincent’s
first bankruptcy in 2005. St. Vincent’s still carries $188 million in
debt from those hospitals — in malpractice and pension liabilities —
more than one-quarter of St. Vincent’s overall $700 million debt.

However, there are reasons to believe a strong merger could be formed
now with any one of four of five partners who may be interested. Word
is that two groups have already toured St. Vincent’s, with two more
set to come through this week. Because St. Vincent’s isn’t a
specialized hospital, but a general hospital, it could be a good fit
with New York University Medical Center, some say. And North
Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System might want St. Vincent’s as a
toehold in Manhattan.

Hurting St. Vincent’s have been negative and inaccurate media reports.
A recent New York Times article gave the impression St. Vincent’s
would be shutting down several entire departments, such as pathology
and neurology. In fact, the hospital is merely letting go of 32
residents — doctors in training. No departments are being eliminated.
Errors like these dangerously damage the hospital’s image at this
sensitive time.

Meanwhile, the need for St. Vincent’s will only grow. Lower
Manhattan’s residential population is expanding, and the World Trade
Center is being rebuilt; more residents will be coming to Hudson Yards
as that area is developed.

Whatever it takes, St. Vincent’s must remain an acute-care hospital
with an E.R. to serve Greenwich Village and the whole West Side. State
Senator Tom Duane put it best: “Not saving St. Vincent’s is not an