St. Vincent's Closes for Good

St. Vincent's Hospital, a 160-year institution in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, closed for good Friday after months of feuding and years of financial struggles.

Closed signs were posted on the hospital's double doors at 8:15 a.m. About 100 people, including nurses, doctors, other hospital workers and neighborhood residents, had gathered by the time a large blue St. Vincent's flag was removed from the emergency room doors. Some cried, while others took pictures of the building.

Furniture was quickly being removed from the main entrance while security guards looked on, keeping passers-by out.

The hospital has been scaling down operations since filing for bankruptcy earlier this month, with debt topping $1 billion.

The city stopped sending ambulances to St. Vincent's on April 9. The hospital's 3,500 employees got termination notices more than two weeks ago. But several hundred stayed through Friday morning to take care of dozens of patients, including walk-in emergency cases.

And then it was over.

A last Mass was celebrated in the hospital's historic chapel, which is graced with Tiffany-style windows.

As Dr. Blanca Sckell walked into the chapel, she said she felt as if she were attending a funeral.

"A lot of the good work that has been done here is dying," said Sckell, who had worked in community medicine at the hospital for three years.

Near an ambulance area, people placed a bouquet of white roses, a lighted white candle and a card that read, "Your light shines on. Thank you, St. Vincent's."

Since it opened in 1849, the famed Manhattan hospital has treated cholera victims, survivors of the Titanic and hundreds of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. It also was at the forefront of the early response to the AIDS epidemic.

St. Vincent's was the last Catholic-affiliated hospital in New York City. The nearest top-level trauma center is now Bellevue Hospital, more than two miles away.

"There's a lot of heartbroken people inside the ER. ... They have been the heart and soul of this hospital for many years," said Eileen Dunn, a St. Vincent's nurse for 24 years. "I think on 9/11 we saw what hatred could do. We're seeing today what greed and politics can do to a hospital.

"It's like a funeral inside," she said.

The city deployed extra ambulances to Manhattan's lower West Side to bring emergency cases to other hospitals; two vehicles were stationed near St. Vincent's in case someone mistakenly comes for care.

Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital is getting more than $9 million in state money to open a 24-hour urgent care facility in the neighborhood, but it's not clear when.

"It's very sad. I wish the hospital could stay open. But the bottom line is, it's not going to," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday on his weekly radio show.

"Lenox Hill has talked about ... having an acute care facility," he said. "And that's one of the dangers: If people think you can get immediate triage needed for an emergency, like a stroke or a heart attack, and go there and find they can't do it. ..."

Bob Krampner, 90, has been a patient at the hospital over the years — surgery for a knee injury and treatment for a dislocated shoulder after a fall.

"I'm very sad to see it close," he said. "There's no place to go in the event of an emergency."

He said it's "a realistic problem" as he gets older. "I don't know where I would go. I'd probably have to go to Bellevue, which is way over on the East Side."

Dr. Frederick Fiegal, associate chairman of medicine, said the closure was a huge loss not only of emergency services but also of special programs for the elderly and frail, as well as the homeless.

Charles Carpati, chief of St. Vincent's medical intensive care unit, said he felt despair over the closing, which he called "a horrible loss to this community."

He said he wasn't sure of his future plans.

"There's not a lot of turnover for our services in New York City, but we're waiting to hear from other hospitals," Carpati said.

Dominique Sicile, a nurse practitioner at St. Vincent's for 23 years, said the hospital had excellent clinicians, physicians and staff "and that somehow has disappeared in the political aspect of what they have decided to do with this place."

Bloomberg said city officials were doing everything it could to ensure New Yorkers got proper care.

The city has enough hospital beds, and the fire department added ambulances, he said. "We're doing everything we can to make sure that you're still safe."

But Miguel Acevedo of the Robert Fulton Houses Tenants Association in Chelsea, a public housing development with more than 2,200 residents, including senior citizens, was concerned.

He said many senior citizens believe that if they had a heart attack, they may not survive while being transferred to Bellevue or to Beth Israel.

Beth Israel Medical Center on Manhattan's East Side is more than a mile away, often through thick traffic.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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