Volume 80, Number 42 | March 17 - 23, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

 

File photo

The former St. Vincent’s Hospital’s O’Toole building on W. 12th St. would become a free-standing emergency department under a plan by North Shore-L.I.J.

Emergency-care facility is planned for O’Toole site

By Albert Amateau

A neighborhood health center with a free-standing emergency department could open in the O’Toole building of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital as early as 2013 as part of a proposal that would include the residential redevelopment of the old St. Vincent’s campus with a total of 300 luxury condos.

The plan was announced Thurs., March 10, by the bankrupt St. Vincent’s in partnership with North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System — which would own and operate the O’Toole health center/emergency room — and the Rudin Organization, which would build the residential complex, including a new 200-foot-tall residential tower, five new row houses and residentially convert four old St. Vincent’s buildings.

But the plan must first receive approval from creditors at an April 7 hearing in the St. Vincent’s bankruptcy case. In addition, Rudin must secure complex zoning changes for the redevelopment, even though the residential plan won the approval of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in July 2009.

Moreover, Landmarks must also approve any reconstruction that affects the exterior of the O’Toole building, according to a spokesperson for North Shore-L.I.J.

St. Vincent’s went into bankruptcy in April 2010 — for the second time in three years — and closed its doors, ending its 161-year history in the Village since its 1849 founding by the Sisters of Charity. St. Vincent’s debt is estimated at $1 billion.

In 2008, St. Vincent’s joined Rudin in proposing a new state-of-the-art hospital to replace the O’Toole building on the west side of Seventh Ave., while Rudin agreed to acquire the old campus on the east side of the avenue for its residential development. But the bankruptcy put an end to the new hospital and left the residential development in limbo.

Last week’s proposal calls for Rudin to pay $260 million for the old hospital campus while St. Vincent’s transfers O’Toole to North Shore-L.I.J., which will spend $100 million to renovate the six-story, 160,000-square-foot O’Toole for the proposed new center. Rudin has also agreed to pay $10 million to North Shore-L.I. J. to help the renovation of O’Toole.

While the new plan was announced as an attempt to return the healthcare that was lost to Greenwich Village with the closing of St. Vincent’s, neighborhood groups that have been demanding a full-service hospital were skeptical, and charged at a wild March 11 meeting that the proposal does not respond to community health needs.

Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said this week, “The last plan by St. Vincent’s and Rudin was a tragic and unmitigated disaster, largely because the financials were a fantasy which public officials accepted as reality, even as members of the public, including G.V.S.H.P., regularly called them into question. I sincerely hope that any new plan will undergo more rigorous scrutiny, which must start with the ULURP process. 

“Although the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the design of the Rudin condo plan,” Berman said, “it cannot move ahead unless it gets a large raft of zoning changes and approvals, which should examine whether or not the size of the proposed developments and their impact upon the neighborhood are appropriate.”

The test will come later in the city’s uniform land use review procedure, or ULURP, which Rudin must initiate and win approval for before building the residential project.

Elected officials last week focused on the proposed emergency department in the O’Toole building. They sent a letter to St. Vincent’s, North Shore-L.I.J. and Rudin with a list of 12 questions that ended with the statement, “We have stated that our first priority is for a full-service hospital and emergency room to replace St. Vincent’s. What led you to this proposal instead of a state-of-the-art, full-service hospital?”

The officials, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn, state Senator Tom Duane and Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Richard Gottfried, along with Borough President Scott Stringer and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, also asked how many emergency department patients could be served in the new O’Toole’s center compared to the numbers served by St. Vincent’s emergency room.

The officials were concerned that “underserved and uninsured” patients be served at the emergency department with a single standard of care regardless of ability to pay.

Terry Lynam, spokesperson for North Shore-L.I.J., said on Monday that the O’Toole center’s emergency department would not be a full-service trauma center, but would have the medical staff and equipment to stabilize patients and would have a holding area for patients who need to be transported to a higher level of care.

The emergency department would be comparable to the emergency room of New York Downtown Hospital on Beekman St. but would have no inpatient beds.

“We’ll meet with the different ambulance services and E.M.S. providers and tell them what kinds of patients they should and shouldn’t bring,” Lynam said. Ambulances would not bring individuals with critical gunshot wounds, major compound fractures or symptoms of stroke or cardiac arrest or women in labor, he said. Walk-ins would be treated, though.

“If someone comes in with their father or mother with stroke symptoms, we’d be able to treat them,” he said. The only ambulance at the center would be used to move patients to a higher level of care, he added.

The center, however, will have a full-service imaging center and special-surgery capacity to focus on intervention treatment for the sick and elderly, according to the plan made public on March 10. It will be open 24/7.

North Shore-L.I.J. opened a small urgent-care center in partnership with VillageCare in the latter’s clinic on W. 20th St. last week. That center, with services similar to the proposed O’Toole’s center, will remain in operation.

However Brad Hoylman, head of Community Board 2’s St. Vincent’s Omnibus Committee, said in an e-mail to this newspaper this week, “We have made it clear that we don’t want a glorified urgent-care center… . What will happen to the clinics currently in the O’Toole building, including the H.I.V. clinic? We are only at the beginning of a very important public process, which includes the land use approvals for the Rudin development.”

Jo Hamilton, Community Board 2 chairperson, had similar concerns.

“We look forward to better understanding how a stand-alone emergency room could work and what other services will be included in the O’Toole building,” she said.

Yetta Kurland, a founder of the Coalition for a New Village Hospital, said the proposal is being presented as a done deal dictated by St. Vincent’s bankruptcy.

“It isn’t a done deal,” she said. There are still questions about whether the project can move forward with the Rudin plan to demolish the former hospital’s Coleman building on the east side of the Seventh Ave., Kurland insisted.

“We heard an engineering expert speak recently about being able to put a full-service hospital in the Coleman building for $250 million,” she added.

However, Bill Rudin, head of the development organization, said the residential project would generate more than 1,100 construction jobs. The 24/7 comprehensive-care center would employ more than 300 people. Moreover, Rudin said, he would build a public park on the triangle on the west side of Seventh Ave. across 12th St. from the O’Toole building, in consultation with community groups.

In 2009, Rudin provided a financial guarantee that would allow the city’s School Construction Authority to build a 564-seat public elementary school on the first four floors of the Foundling Hospital, at Sixth Ave. and 17th St.

According to bankruptcy court papers quoted in a Crain’s New York Business article, the deal in its current form is not conditional on zoning and permit approvals for the residential project on the east side of Seventh Ave; nor is it dependant on state Health Department approvals for the North Shore-L.I.J. health center and emergency department in the O’Toole building.

In 2007, before the bankruptcy and when real estate values were still high, a memorandum of agreement called for Rudin to buy the old hospital campus for about $340 million in a deal that was contingent on various approvals.

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