Workers, city leaders rally to save St. Vincent's

April 7, 2010 2:55:37 PM PDT
Employees and neighborhood leaders held a rally Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to save St. Vincent's Hospital. Officials say the Greenwich Village hospital can no longer stay afloat and is closing.

St. Vincent's was still in business Wednesday afternoon, but its days are numbered. Despite a frantic last few weeks, the 160-year old institution probably cannot be saved.

"Save St. Vincent's hospital!" those in attendance chanted, though their pleas will likely fall on deaf ears. It was was supposed to be a rally, but it ended up feeling more like a funeral.

There were hugs and tears from a lot of employees, including Grace Clagnaz, who has worked in the pharmacy for six years.

"I am just so devastated that it's closing," she said, fighting back tears. "And it's like a second home. Everyone is so great."

No hospital has agreed to merge with St. Vincent's, which owes more than $700 million in debt.

In the past, Governor David Paterson and others have floated a plan to make the great old hospital basically a clinic.

"I want to send a clear message to the governor and our state health commissioner that that proposal wasn't acceptable," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. "Don't dust it off and try to re-sell it. It is as unacceptable today as it was a month or two ago."

Neighborhood leaders want to at least keep St. Vincent's emergency room open. Otherwise, patients on the West Side of Manhattan will be forced to find care miles away on the East Side or further downtown. To the north, St. Luke's Roosevelt would be closest.

Jack Dowling has cataract surgery scheduled for April 13. He doesn't know yet what to do.

"Yeah, it is worrisome, very worrisome," he said. "It's been my, this hospital has been my support system for 50 years."

The board of directors of Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers voted Tuesday to close the institution's acute, rehab and behavioral inpatient services.

Its other programs will continue as the organization seeks partners to keep them running.

"The decision to close St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan inpatient services was made only after the board, management and our advisors exhausted every possible alternative," said Alfred E. Smith IV, Chairman of the Board of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers.

"Outpatient services, such as our Cancer Center and the HIV/AIDS Center, will continue to provide care without interruption as we proceed with plans to transfer those services to new sponsors or other operating alternatives," Smith said.

Gov. Paterson expressed disappointment, but said his goal is to help salvage the hospital's remaining services and create an urgent care center.

Four nuns opened St. Vincent's in 1849 to take in victims of a cholera epidemic. On 9/11, the hospital closest to the World Trade Center treated more than 800 people.

It is the last Catholic-affiliated hospital in New York City.

The emergency room will eventually shut down, officials said, because they will no longer admit patients. A date for the emergency room to close hasn't been established yet. If inpatient services have ended, the hospital may elect to keep the ER open at least temporarily and transfer patients who need to be admitted to another hospital.

Patients will be discharged or transferred to nearby non-affiliated hospitals, officials said. Elective surgeries will continue on a case-by-case basis, though it is anticipated that elective surgeries will cease after April 14, 2010.

Patients will receive more information about this announcement in the coming days, hospital officials said. Patients can also visit

The rest of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, such as its nursing homes and the hospital in Westchester, will continue to operate until they are sold to other providers.