Volume 80, Number 12 | August 19 - 25, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Albert Amateau

Attorney Yetta Kurland on Monday at Foley Square, center, announcing her freedom of information lawsuit on St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Lawsuit charges St. Vincent’s execs fleeced failing hospital

By Albert Amateau

Attorney Yetta Kurland filed a freedom of information lawsuit on Monday demanding that the New York State Department of Health and its commissioner, Richard Daines, make public “any and all documents” relating to the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Kurland and her law partner, Tom Shanahan, challenged the legality of the April 6 vote by the St. Vincent’s board of directors to close the only remaining Catholic hospital in Manhattan, founded 160 years ago.

The suit also challenges the validity of a hospital closing plan submitted to the state Department of Health in February.

“I was told that the Feb. 17 plan submitted to the Department of Health was a transition plan for Mt. Sinai Hospital, not a closing plan,” Kurland told members of the Coalition for a New Village Hospital, gathered at Foley Square outside of State Supreme Court on Monday morning. The negotiations for Mt. Sinai to take over administration of the hospital fell apart shortly before St. Vincent’s closed.

“We question the number of administration employees and hospital consultants and the expenses involved in two bankruptcies,” Kurland said. “We know that $63 million was spent on the first bankruptcy, and St. Vincent’s still hasn’t paid for the second bankruptcy. There are still people working it.”

The suit also seeks documents related to the coalition’s complaint that St. Vincent’s has paid more than $10 million to its top executives over the two years preceding the second bankruptcy, which was filed on April 14.

“They spent nearly $300,000 on a golf outing as the hospital was going under,” charged Kurland. “They have not accounted for $100 million in taxpayers’ money,” she added.

The suit contends that the state Department of Health has not furnished documents that the coalition requested.

“It’s a shame that we have to go to court to get documents that belong to the people,” said Mark Taylor, a lawyer taking part in the lawsuit.

“We’re going to hold all our elected officials accountable for the fate of St. Vincent’s,” said Kurland, an unsuccessful primary candidate last year for the City Council seat of Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Kurland had filed a lawsuit in April, seeking to block the hospital closing. That suit is moot and is now in limbo. Kurland on Monday said she has filed 72 complaints with the state Attorney General’s Office seeking an investigation of the St. Vincent’s closing.

“St. Vincent’s loss is a vital health and safety issue for Lower Manhattan,” said Paul Newell, Democratic district co-leader in Lower Manhattan and a member of the coalition. “We demand that the state attorney general investigate any crime that contributed to the closing of St. Vincent’s,” Newell declared.

Jean Grillo, Democratic district co-leader for Lower Manhattan and a coalition member, noted that Community Boards 1 and 2 — covering Lower Manhattan and Greenwich Village/Soho, respectively — both passed unanimous resolutions about their districts’ need for a hospital with a Level 1 trauma center like St. Vincent’s.

“When my daughter was in school, she had an accident that crushed her shoulder and she went to the pediatric center at St. Vincent’s,” Grillo said. “My husband had a heart attack and went to St. Vincent’s cardiac intensive-care unit. When St. Vincent’s closed we lost both those centers.”

Noah Pfefferblit, Community Board 1 district manager, recalled that St. Vincent’s was the Downtown designated trauma center during the World Trade Center attack. The district should not be left without a Level 1 trauma center, he said.

Ed Ma, a member of Community Board 2 and the coalition, said he was very suspicious about the proposal, now inactive, for residential condo development of the St. Vincent’s property. He also said New York University should have taken over St. Vincent’s as part of the university’s N.Y.U. 2031 expansion plan and prevented the hospital closing.

Miguel Acevedo, president of the Robert Fulton Houses tenants association, said he though recent deaths in the Chelsea public housing development might have been prevented if St. Vincent’s were operating.

“People are telling me they’re not going to the hospital until they’re really bad,” Acevedo said. “It’s a long way to Bellevue or Beth Israel.”

Eileen Dunn, a coalition member who was president of the New York State Nurses Association union at St. Vincent’s when she worked at the hospital, said, “Seven hundred fifty nurses lost their jobs. We have to find out if St. Vincent’s was closed legally.”

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