Massive Debt Forces Hospital to Close
West Villagers rally to support ailing facility
Tuesday, February 16th, 2010
On January 26, St. Vincent’s announced a $700 billion shortfall in its budget, a debt so large that the hospital would either have to find a white knight buyer or shut its doors. For residents of New York City, and the West Village in particular, the headlines elicited surprise and trepidation.
For decades, the hospital, located at 12th Street and Seventh Avenue, has been known for quality care and a willingness to accept an abundance of homeless, poor, and uninsured patients.
On February 2, Governor David Paterson granted the hospital an emergency tax-free loan of $6 million, which he followed up with a second loan, for $3 million. Paterson's second loan was then matched by GE Capital and TD Bank.
Despite the urgent help, St. Vincent’s remains in danger of closing. In an effort to stay open, the hospital laid off 32 doctors in early February and closed its HIV center. According to the *New York Times*, on February 12, St. Vincent's laid off more than 300 workers and asked other employees to take temporary pay cuts of 10 to 25 percent.
But throughout the dire budget crisis, hospital officials have tried to put on a good face.
“We remain fully committed to exploring any and all opportunities to keep this venerable institution open,” St. Vincent's stated in a February 5 press release. Officials said that St. Vincent's is taking steps to continue to care for patients and re-stabilize the hospital's finances.
One solution was for Continuum Health Partners, a consortium of hospitals in Brooklyn and Manhattan, to take over St. Vincent's outpatient facilities. This sparked outrage from local politicians, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who accused Continuum of trying to eliminate competition. After a week, Continuum withdrew its offer.
West Village residents also grew vocal in their opposition to the group's takeover.
“We would lose our local emergency room,” said Eileen Michaelson, a long-time Village resident. "Everyone that gets hurt on the West Side will have to go to the East Side, and cross-town traffic is terrible anywhere you go. It’s an absolute no.”
Similarly, the hospital’s closure would also decrease health care options for New School students who live in the area. Tommy McPartlon, a Lang junior, visited St. Vincent’s two years ago when New School health services were unable to help him. Despite his visit, McPartlon said he won't be affected. "I feel as if Greenwich Village is losing a landmark," he added.
On February 9, Local 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East, held a rally to save the hospital. In attendance were newly-elected city Comptroller John Liu, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Council Speaker Quinn, among others. “People said AIG was too big to fail,” said Quinn to an audience applauding in support. “But St. Vincent’s Hospital is too important to close.”
More than 200 hospital employees and neighborhood residents attended the rally, in the hopes of finding, according to a press release from 1199SEIU, a “long term solution that will keep St. Vincent’s Hospital financially solvent."
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