One man's quiet demonstration has stirred, and perhaps resurrected local attention towards the controversial shut down of a 160-year-old city hospital.
Every week, Douglas Esposit, 60, stands alone outside the boarded remnants of St. Vincent's emergency room at West 12th Street and 7th Avenue. He treks downtown from his Upper West Side medical supplies business to continue his mission of bringing the hospital back to life.
Once at his post, Mr. Esposit will stand vigilantly for hours, speaking only when spoken to. The sign around his neck sends a clear enough message: "Our Community Needs St. Vincent's."
It was a sunny day when we found Esposit at his usual spot. He was chatting with a local resident and fielding questions from a Columbia University student. It appeared Esposit's one man movement had gained some momentum.
"I've been down here, looking for some answers," he told NBCNewYork. Having a hospital serve the Lower West Side is imperative, he said, because without it, locals in the area have to go to the East side of town for medical treatment.
That amount of downtime in an ambulance, he claimed, when factored in with traffic delays, could mean the difference between life or death.
Esposit lost his father to an asthma attack in 1982 because he did not receive medical care in time.
Many who spoke with Esposit that afternoon were emotional about the hospital's closing.
"Terrible. I miss it, I miss the sirens going down 7th Avenue," said Rebecca, who has lived in the Village for 40 years. "We have nobody, we have nothing, and it's just too far to go to the East side for a hospital."
"This is absolutely a nightmare and a disgrace," declared another woman, who chose to remain anonymous. "It's a disgrace for the whole world to see New York City take away this kind of needed service."
It's words like these that keep Esposit on his feet week after week.
"When people come by they tell me to hold the sign up a little higher," he smiles, "[and] that gives me inspiration that what I'm doing is a decent thing."
St. Vincent's, the last Roman Catholic hospital in the city closed in April after years of financial struggle and mismanagement.
Former hospital COO Arthur Webb admitted to The Villager in June that "top heavy" administration and medical costs, as well as strenuous consultant advisory fees were factors in the hospital's demise.
Allegedly $3 million a month was spent on turnaround advisors alone, to little positive effect. When St. Vincent's first filed for bankruptcy in 2005, it held $250 million in debt. It owed $700 million by the time it flatlined. A planned merger with Mt. Sinai fell through.
Esposit insists that "money should not be an issue. Hospitals are your last defense to serve someone that's very, very sick. We should respect that."
It remains unclear whether Esposit's mission to bring back St. Vincent's will succeed. The pictures, good-bye messages and notes posted on the wall by supporters of the hospital were taken down just days before our interview. The only trinket that remains is a blue candle, placed in the shadow of the once bustling ER.
"There have been many candles since I've been standing here," said Esposit, "but this one is the most recent one, showing maybe a little bit of hope is still left."
In a statement on their website, St. Vincent's says they are "deeply saddened" that they have been unable to find a plan to save the hospital. They add that the decision to close the hospital was made "after the board, management, and our advisors exhausted every possible alternative."
St. Vincent's outpatient services, which includes its Cancer Center and AIDS Center will continue to operate as the organization looks for new sponsorship.
The Saturday we spoke to Esposit, he had been standing with his sign for three hours. He planned to come back the following Monday.
"I don't have all the answers, I'm sorry," he told us, "but I do have one answer and that is I'll be here, holding the sign up."