Volume 80, Number 14 | September 2-8, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


A win for health

Last Thursday’s announcement that North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and VillageCare have agreed to team up to open an urgent-care center on W. 20th St. near Sixth Ave., in the Chelsea/Flatiron area, came as welcome news. For one, it means the standoff has ended with the estate of St. Vincent’s Hospital on whether the urgent-care center would be sited, at least temporarily, in the former hospital’s emergency department space on Seventh Ave. between 11th and 12th Sts.

The stumbling blocks reportedly were St. Vincent’s insisting that the center not provide birth-control services, as well as its asking for a high rent and requiring that the facility vacate the site rapidly once a sale of the property is inked. And, let’s be clear, there’s no doubt a sale will happen, in order to satisfy the creditors of St. Vincent’s, which closed at the end of April with a staggering $1 billion debt.

The agreement with VillageCare — which operates the Village Nursing Home, day services for seniors and H.I.V./AIDS residences and services — means that the Lower Manhattan community will soon have a 24-hour clinic to provide a range of healthcare. True, the “urgicare,” as it’s known for short, will fall far short of what St. Vincent’s was, meaning a full-scale hospital, offering trauma care and an emergency room. But it will be open 24/7 — including holidays — to treat a range of medical conditions.

The center will be located at 121A W. 20th St. — just eight blocks from St. Vincent’s — in a two-story building where VillageCare already operates a primary-care center. Approval of the plan by the state Department of Health is expected soon, and the center could open by early fall.

Because VillageCare has a long and established record of excellent service in the community, the new plan will allow for even greater continuity of care than had the facility been temporarily housed at the former St. Vincent’s or sited at another location. Under the plan, VillageCare’s primary-care clinic will add outpatient pediatric care, imaging services and subspecialty care as needed, such as ear, nose and throat, urology, cardiology and neurology. “Urgicare” patients will have access to ongoing, follow-up care provided at the same 20th St. location by VillageCare.

Yes, the Lower West Side definitely needs a full-service hospital. Yes, St. Vincent’s made many mistakes over many years, sealing its own fate. But the unfortunate reality is that we likely won’t see a new hospital in our area for a generation. The state Department of Health doesn’t support opening a new hospital here, and in the current fiscal climate there’s no funding for it.

More than a few Downtown residents have been bashing the idea of the urgent-care center — crying out that what’s needed is a hospital, nothing less. Again, we’re not getting a hospital. So the attacks on the urgent-care center plan should stop. Certain hospital advocates should now cease slamming our local politicians and Community Board 2, charging they’re not doing enough and trying to bully them into taking positions and making statements. The word “grandstanding” does come to mind.

In addition, it was inappropriate for St. Vincent’s to try to foist its beliefs about birth control on the urgent-care center, not to mention try to extract an exorbitant rent. Simply put, St. Vincent’s mission is over and done. In trying to impose restrictions on this site, St. Vincent’s was effectively blocking and delaying the community’s access to much-needed healthcare.

All in all, though, we’re very encouraged by this latest development, which means at least a portion of the West Side’s health needs will now be met. No, an urgent-care center certainly isn’t a hospital, but it’s something — and it will play a vital role in helping keep our community healthy.


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