The Villager: Times adds to St. Vincent’s trauma, hospital’s docs say

Thomas K. Duane

March 03, 2010

By Lincoln Anderson

As St. Vincent’s Hospital struggles to stay afloat, top physicians at
a “visibility rally” Sunday said a main obstacle the hospital is
facing is negative media coverage.

There was the New York Post editorial earlier this month that urged to
“pull the plug” on the Greenwich Village hospital.

But even worse, to hear the doctors tell it, have been misleading
articles about what is going on at St. Vincent’s as it battles to
stave off bankruptcy and keep from closing after more than 160 years
of service.

Physicians at the rally — held in the lobby of the McBurney YMCA, on
14th St. near Sixth Ave. — singled out for special criticism a Feb. 12
New York Times article as having been particularly hurtful, creating
the misperception that the hospital was shutting down key departments.

The Times article stated: “Arthur Y. Webb, the hospital’s chief of
operations, confirmed...that six programs — sleep medicine,
endocrinology, pathology, ophthalmology, renal medicine and neurology
— would be closed by the end of the month. But he said the hospital’s
well-known H.I.V., psychiatric and community clinics were fully
operating, reversing a decision to stop taking new patients.”

Dr. William Mandell, St. Vincent’s chief of infectious diseases, said
the Times article should have clarified that what the hospital will be
eliminating as of March 1 are its residency programs in those six
areas. Residencies are known as “teaching programs” — a stage of
post-graduate medical training. Although resident doctors typically
examine a patient first, they report back to the attending physician,
who has the final say on treatment.

“The Times made it look like we’re not going to have radiology,
pathology...anymore — not true,” Mandell said. “The hospital is
setting up a way to take care of the patients — attendings. The people
leaving are the people still in training,” he said of the residents in
the teaching programs slated for closing.

Mandell — who has worked at the hospital 22 years — said St. Vincent’s
C.O.O. Webb also bears responsibility for conveying an accurate
message to the media.

“He was, I can’t say misquoted — but it came across wrong,” Mandell said.

“We feel like we’re fighting the press and the image more than
anything else,” Mandell said. “Certainly, Crain’s New York Business
has not been very friendly; they’ve written some pretty harsh things.”

Despite the doomsday news reports, St. Vincent’s is carrying on
basically as it was before, according to Mandell and other department

“We’re still doing open-heart surgery,” he said. “We’re still doing
neurosurgery. From a patient point of view, little has changed. I
myself had shoulder surgery there two weeks ago. If you didn’t know,
and you didn’t read the press, and you come to our emergency room, you
wouldn’t know the difference.”

Staying alive
Asked how the hospital’s prognosis is looking, Mandell said that
because a merger is still a possibility, St. Vincent’s may have earned
a bit more time.

“We’ve been told there are interested partners,” he said. “Because of
that, the hospital has given us longer than a month. It looks like we
have a lifeline longer than March 1.”

Mandell and another doctor, Charles Carpati, head of intensive care at
St. Vincent’s, said if the hospital finds a partner, they hope it has
a residency program.

“The word ‘doctor’ means ‘teacher’ — that’s what we like to do,” Carpati said.

“It’s something we like to do — hand down knowledge to the next
generation,” Mandell echoed. They noted that St. Vincent’s has always
been known as a “teaching hospital.”

The visibility rally was organized by state Senator Tom Duane. More
than 800 “Save St. Vincent’s” signs were handed out; the idea is for
merchants and neighborhood residents to stick them in as many windows
as possible — especially ground-floor and second-story windows —
sending a massive visual message that the community is behind the
hospital and pulling for its survival. People also signed a petition,
which already had more than 7,000 names, to keep the hospital open.

E.R. still busy
Eric Legome, chairman of St. Vincent’s emergency room, also attended the rally.

“We’re still having days with 40 to 50 admissions,” he said, referring
to patients seen in the E.R. who are then admitted to the hospital for
further treatment. “And we’re seeing 150 and 170 patients a day,” he
said of the E.R.

St. Vincent’s emergency department has 63,000 to 65,000 patient visits
annually, according to Legome.

Asked what impact closing the hospital’s E.R. would have, he said, “I
think it would be a disaster to be honest. You’ll have N.Y.U. [Medical
Center] seeing three times its capacity. Bellevue is packed. Beth
Israel is pretty full.”

However, a nurse who came to the rally, who works at both St.
Vincent’s and Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side, reportedly
told people that in the last two weeks, E.R. visits at Lenox Hill have
tripled amid the anticipation of St. Vincent’s E.R. closing; that’s
because some ambulance drivers have already decided not to go to St.
Vincent’s anymore, she said.

Theresa Tretter, a doctor of ophthalmology, who has her office in St.
Vincent’s O’Toole building, said the hospital’s end would affect
numerous West Siders — many of them elderly — who depend on it for eye

“I have so many patients that don’t want to go east — and there are
tons of them,” she said.

Judith Callet, resident chairperson of the Bleecker Area Merchants’
and Residents’ Association (BAMRA), came by to join the rally and pick
up some “Save St. Vincent’s” signs.

“I think it would be a great tragedy to lose it,” she said of the
hospital. “My husband had a couple of close calls, and if it had been
farther away, he would have lost his life.”

Meeting with governor
Afterward, Duane said he had joined by telephone the St. Vincent’s
meeting that was held last Wednesday at the governor’s office in East

“We continued to press and stress how important St. Vincent’s was,”
Duane said. “I felt that the governor was supportive, and we need
every possible assistance from the state to keep St. Vincent’s
functioning — and then we can strengthen it once its survival is
assured. The city should have a very strong interest in keeping St.
Vincent’s providing care,” he added, saying that losing it will
overburden other hospitals that see managed-care and uninsured
patients, like Gouverneur and Bellevue.

Duane noted that people came from as far away as Mott St. and Battery
Park City for the rally, since St. Vincent’s has 40 clinics and a wide

Asked if he thought the hospital would pull through, Duane said,
“We’re all trying to do everything we can do to save it — and we’re
pretty effective in these neighborhoods. Not saving it is not an

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