St. Vincent's Hospital Shuts Down

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com April 30 2010 8:35 AM ET

St. Vincent’s Hospital, an anchor of HIV/AIDS treatment in New York City since the 1980s, closed its doors in the West Village — most likely for good — at 8 a.m. on Friday. The closure leaves residents in the crowded neighborhood asking, What now?

Earlier this month, saddled by debt potentially reaching $1 billion, board members voted to close the 160-year-old hospital, the last remaining Catholic hospital in New York City. The parent corporation of St. Vincent’s filed for bankruptcy for the second time in five years.

The closure effective Friday eliminates inpatient services and removes the only emergency room serving hundreds of thousands of people on Manhattan’s Lower West Side, a scary proposition for residents who experienced the September 11 attacks. Also affected are the future of the hospital’s famed cancer center and the HIV/AIDS treatment unit, the latter likely to be absorbed by Mount Sinai Medical Center. Some 3,500 jobs will be terminated as a result of the closure.

“It is in essence a catastrophe waiting to happen and there is a massive emerging health crisis in Lower Manhattan because of this closure,” said Yetta Kurland, a lesbian civil rights attorney from the West Village, in an interview with The Advocate.

Kurland filed a lawsuit last week to compel the state department of health to stop the closure on grounds that the hospital gave the agency less than 90 days’ notice. The bankruptcy court opted to exercise its jurisdiction on the matter and prevented the suit from going to court, but she plans to continue with legal proceedings.

“The kind of speed, it’s incredible the way that the closure has happened and the underlying reasons for the closure are to some degree still unknown,” said Kurland, who remains skeptical of the hospital’s financial management. “There seems to be a revenue stream coming in — the question is, What happens with the money when it gets there?”Her lawsuit included a transgender man who lauded the quality of care
and sensitivity he received at St. Vincent’s. That feeling
is not uncommon within the uniquely close relationship that geography and
circumstances forged between the LGBT
community and the Catholic hospital.

“There’s a level of respect
and dignity that’s given to LGBT families that is very important,” said
Kurland. “You can’t just create that. That’s something that comes with
an ongoing commitment.”

This week Gov. David Paterson
announced $14 million in grants to open an urgent care facility in place
of the emergency room at St. Vincent’s, but the
services, to be located on-site for the next few years, will be
nowhere near as extensive. Residents will need to travel across
congested city blocks for bona fide emergencies, a point they hammered home
at a rally against the closure last weekend.

Friday evening
advocates will hold the first community town hall meeting to address the
closing of St. Vincent’s and weigh potential next steps. They hope to draw
elected officials to hear the public input missing from the debate so
far.

“The perfect scenario is, whether it’s the old St.
Vincent’s, the new St. Vincent’s, or a hospital with a different name at
the same site, we have the same services but better managed so we
don’t have to worry about losing necessary services every five years,”
said Kurland. “We need the same level of services, but better.”