Volume 80, Number 21 | October 21 - 27, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Healthcare realities

Almost half a year after the closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, the impact is still reverberating and being felt deeply.

One of the biggest effects, for many local residents, is the sheer psychological and emotional wound left by St. Vincent’s abrupt vanishing.

Local merchants are also feeling the loss, from recently departed Artepasta to Lips. (Actually, our understanding is the Italian eatery and the gender-bending club shared a common kitchen.)

But, unfortunately, no amount of protests and rallies and belief in the power of positive thinking will make a new hospital suddenly “manifest” in the Village.

There are certain immutable facts. First of all, the main St. Vincent’s Hospital campus site on the east side of Seventh Aves. between 11th and 12th Sts. is tied up in Bankruptcy Court. When St. Vincent’s closed, it had an enormous $1 billion debt. GE Capital and TD Bank are looking to collect all of their portion of that debt, about $305 million. As the senior creditors, their needs will be satisfied first — through the sale of St. Vincent’s Village hospital campus. Bankruptcy Court has primacy over everything; there’s no possibility of eminent domain here.

In short, the idea that any part of that property — such as the relatively new Coleman building — will be reused as a hospital is wishful thinking, to say it bluntly, absurd.

And what if a new hospital were to be built somewhere nearby other than at the old St. Vincent’s? Basically, a new hospital costs $2 million a bed to construct; so, a 300-bed hospital would cost $600 million. A sponsor would be needed to staff and operate it — and the way the St. Vincent’s collapse went down, with seeming tacit approval of state Department of Health Commissioner Daines, it’s unlikely anyone would step in now. The city won’t operate a public hospital here — the Health and Hospitals Corporation is already saddled with its own $1 billion debt.

The focus now is on a healthcare-needs assessment that North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System is doing for St. Vincent’s former catchment area. It’s been debated whether the Berger Commission report from several years ago contained a healthcare-needs assessment for the St. Vincent’s area. It did: The report recommended that St. Clare’s and Cabrini hospitals be closed (which happened), but didn’t recommend closing St. Vincent’s. But the current landscape has changed and it’s a good idea to do a fresh assessment.

Health indices from obesity to diabetes rates, to the number of women at peak childbearing years — ages 22 to 35 — will be considered. Thankfully, Greenwich Village’s population is relatively healthy with a low inpatient rate. What we’re hearing, however, is that it’s unlikely the assessment will recommend a hospital.

Before St. Vincent’s closed, state D.O.H. issued an absorption report that, essentially, showed surrounding hospitals could absorb all of St. Vincent’s healthcare services. Yes, no doubt, local E.R.’s are feeling the impact, and yes, some time is being added on to ambulance trips. But this is our healthcare reality, and improvements will have to be made within what we’ve got.

With West Chelsea’s building boom and the Hudson Yards’ development, a new hospital will be needed even more in our area, and a needs assessment will support it. But that’s probably 10 to 15 years away.

So it’s now time to stop the hysteria and ratchet down the hype. It’s time to stop falsely raising people’s hopes and pushing made-up ideas like “land locking” the St. Vincent’s site for hospital use. (The “land lock” concept doesn’t exist in New York City zoning.) In short, it’s time for certain activists to stop pushing this issue because they’re simply ambitious to attain political office. It’s time to get real and face the hard realities.


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