Volume 80, Number 22 | October 28 — November 3, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Lincoln Anderson

An ambulance stripped of its St. Vincent’s Hospital decals parked on W. 12th St. near Seventh Ave. Like the rest of the former hospital’s property, the ambulances are being sold off to help satisfy St. Vincent’s $1 billion debt.

C.B. 2 chairperson
forcefully answers
hospital haranguers

By Lincoln Anderson

At what point does the reality sink in that St. Vincent’s Hospital is gone and that the Village, unfortunately, likely won’t be getting a replacement hospital with an E.R. anytime soon? For activist Yetta Kurland and the Coalition for a New Village Hospital, the answer is — not yet.

Kurland and her die-hard coalition members turned out at Community Board 2’s full board meeting last Thursday to keep up the pressure for a new hospital to replace St. Vincent’s, which closed half a year ago under a massive $1 billion debt.

Speaking during C.B. 2’s public session, coalition members pleaded, demanded, vented, cursed and painted doomsday scenarios of what will happen if there isn’t a new hospital in the Village.

Countering Kurland and the coalition’s charges that the board hasn’t advocated strongly enough for a hospital, later in the meeting, C.B. 2 Chairperson Jo Hamilton read aloud a lengthy, three-and-a-half-page statement. She chronologically listed all the work the board has done on the issue, starting with holding public hearings on St. Vincent’s planned rebuilding plan, then trying to keep St. Vincent’s from closing, and then responding to that loss.

“I do want to remind you that Community Board 2 has been leading on this issue since 2007,” Hamilton stressed. Yet, she added, the board’s recommendations are only advisory, so its powers are limited.

Hamilton later said she felt the statement — which she read during her “chairperson’s report” segment of the meeting — was needed because community board members have told her they’re “confused” by the quixotic coalition’s incessant demands on the board.

Kurland, in her remarks at the meeting, stated accusingly that there hasn’t been a meeting of the C.B. 2 St. Vincent’s Omnibus Committee “for literally three months,” and asked why that was.

She further asked the board what action it has taken to reach out to the city’s Law Department for assistance in getting a community committee involved in the Bankruptcy Court process that is determining the fate of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital campus on Seventh Ave. at 12th St.; that point was part of a resolution C.B. 2 passed in August that was drafted by board member Arthur Schwartz with Kurland’s support. The August resolution also included what Kurland touts as a “land lock” provision for the hospital property, but which C.B. 2 Chairperson Hamilton has called “a made-up word — a meaningless phrase.” The August resolution, Hamilton said, merely reaffirmed the board’s support for a hospital at the St. Vincent’s site.

“Let’s be clear on this — we have not locked the land,” Hamilton re-emphasized at last week’s meeting. “There is no such thing in zoning.”

“I implore you to continue the St. Vincent’s Omnibus Committee,” said Villager Chris Gaylord, during the public session, echoing Kurland. “It appears our political leaders have taken omerta with regard to St. Vincent’s. I implore the board not to follow suit,” he said, referring to the Mafia’s “code of silence.”

Gaylord said not having a full-service hospital in the Village puts the population at risk for numerous diseases, rattling off a lengthy list, including cholera, polio, swine flu, bird flu, West Nile Virus — “and things that we don’t know about yet.”

Another speaker declared, “Right now in France people are taking to the streets. We need to take to the streets over St. Vincent’s!” he exhorted, as coalition members applauded their support.

Quoting Yogi Berra, lifelong Villager Thomas Cahill declared of the struggle for a hospital, “It ain’t over till it’s over. Believe me, this ain’t over!”

A woman whose first name was Pamela expressed indignation that the state is working on a plan to bring Off-Track Betting out of bankruptcy but the government didn’t bail out St. Vincent’s.

“All the elected officials, they’re not returning my calls. Does anybody give a f---?” she said angrily.

Evette Stark held up a Xeroxed copy of this newspaper’s editorial from last week’s issue, entitled “Healthcare realities,” which argued that it’s, unfortunately, futile to keep calling for a new hospital given the current state of healthcare and the economy.

“I just want to know why Community Board 2 put this out,” Stark asked of the editorial. “It seems to be an attack on the coalition. ... It’s very strange.”

Hamilton later said C.B. 2 did not distribute the editorial, but that the board invites people to leave informational material on the table in the back of the meeting room, noting that’s one of the board’s functions.

In her chairperson’s report, Hamilton also noted how C.B. 2 had held firm in support of St. Vincent’s when many Villagers, opposed to the hospital’s rebuilding plans, were saying it should relocate out of the neighborhood.

“We have used every mechanism available to a community board, limited as our powers are,” Hamilton said in her statement. “We have held public hearings (in fact the only public hearings), written resolutions, emcee’d rallies, written letters, met with healthcare professionals and reached out to the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce to gauge the impact of the closure of St. Vincent’s on local businesses.

“We have been consistent and strong in our position that we need a full-service hospital. Nobody needs to tell us how to lead!

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation being circulated by people who have come late to the fight,” she said.

As for engaging with Bankruptcy Court about the St. Vincent’s property, Hamilton said C.B. 2 has consulted with bankruptcy lawyers who explained that since the board isn’t a creditor, it has no standing in the case. Nevertheless, C.B. 2 has made its position known to the court in letters and resolutions, she added.

In addition, Hamilton said, despite the claims of some — notably Kurland — that a health-needs assessment isn’t needed for the former St. Vincent’s catchment area, in fact, an assessment is needed. Hamilton said that David Sandman, executive director of the Berger Commission, last week told C.B. 2 that the commission “did not conduct a classic community health needs assessment. Such an assessment,” Hamilton said, “would include factors such as demographics, morbidity and mortality rates, disparities and service gaps. Importantly, it would examine the entire spectrum of health services, including preventive care, primary care, chronic care, acute care and long-term care services.”

Hamilton stressed that while some charge the community doesn’t have to prove the need for a hospital, but, rather, that the state must prove why a hospital isn’t needed, so far that argument has “fallen on deaf ears” in the courts.

Also, countering those who call the needs assessment a waste of money, Hamilton noted it isn’t costing anything. Hunter College School of Public Health and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System are doing the study pro bono, under the guidance of healthcare professionals, elected officials and appropriate community organizations, she said.

“If we are to have a new urgent-care center or a new hospital and/or emergency room, we need a data-driven analysis of the community’s healthcare needs to get the best, most robust facility possible,” Hamilton said.

“Moving forward, our board will remain vigilant, and act responsibly — whether the issue before us is the future of the St. Vincent’s site, or continuing our commitment to advocate for a new hospital and appropriate levels of healthcare services in our community.”

Asked later why she felt it necessary to give the statement at the meeting, Hamilton said, “The reason I did this is because a lot of board members had expressed confusion — asking why these people keep coming back to us. We’re only a community board — these people keep coming back and demanding things.”

Hamilton said she’s hopeful the Village will get a new hospital, but noted, “At this point, nobody’s come forward. There are no credible offers at this time” by sponsors to create a new hospital.

The focus is now on the health-needs assessment, she reiterated.

“Here we are now six months later and I want to know where our community is getting its healthcare needs met, where people are going, what’s missing, what we need to be advocating for.”

Brad Hoylman, chairperson of the board’s St. Vincent’s Omnibus Committee, said Hamilton wants the committee to meet in connection with the health-needs assessment, which could be completed in the next few months.

“We have been working really hard on this, but nothing [is] public right now,” Hoylman said. “We’ll be holding the meeting when there is information to share.”

C.B. 2 member Ian Dutton said the community board has done all it possibly can.

“I stand with Jo 110 percent in representing that the board has been involved since at least 2007 in taking any step possible to ensure that we retain our hospital,” Dutton said. “We all live in the neighborhood and have depended on the life-saving services of St. Vincent’s as much as all of our neighbors, and are just as sickened with the outcome as the loudest person shouting at our public hearings.”

On Wednesday morning, Kurland sent out an e-mail expressing disappointment that a health needs-assessment meeting she thought was scheduled for the following day at Congressmember Jerrold Nadler’s office had been moved and that Nadler’s office wasn’t giving out the new location, and that the meeting wasn’t public.

Kurland reiterated her vehement opposition to a needs assessment, but said that, if one is occurring, then the community must be centrally involved to ensure that there are no “backroom deals where the real estate interests or other private interests determine the landscape of public healthcare, rather than public need determining public healthcare.”

Hoylman, who chaired the meeting of what’s known as the Community Health Needs Assessment Steering Committee, confirmed the venue was changed — but to provide space for the public, and that they only heard at the last minute that members of the public wanted to attend. The new venue was 250 Broadway, and the meeting was actually held Wednesday, not Thursday, he noted. It was the committee’s second meeting.

“The previous meeting room at Congressmember Nadler’s office was too small to accommodate the public,” Hoylman said. “It’s not a public meeting, though, rather a working group meeting of healthcare and social service experts, elected officials and community board representatives. But we worked to make sure there was some space in case members of the public showed up.”

Hoylman said materials from the meeting would be posted on Community Board 2’s Web site by Thursday. The steering committee will “go on the road” in coming months, seeking more public input, he said.

“This is going to be a very transparent process,” he assured.

In a statement on Wednesday, Nadler said, “Today, the planning committee for the community health-needs assessment — which is made up of a wide range of representatives from community stakeholder groups and elected officials — came together to begin organizing this assessment. I believe that this critical assessment will lay the groundwork for the next steps in restoring a hospital to the community. 

“Today’s meeting was an early step in a process that is designed to ensure community input into the assessment and to reflect the healthcare needs of the entire affected community. This involvement will be achieved both through the current broad community representation on the steering committee and through public meetings in the coming weeks and months. 

“Since we were first informed of the problems at St. Vincent’s on the eve of its closure, I have been fighting alongside the community for a full-service hospital for the Lower West Side,” Nadler said. “We must continue to move forward collectively toward that goal, using any tools available to us.”

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