2 local lawyers file last-ditch lawsuits to save St. Vincent’s

By Albert Amateau

St. Vincent’s Hospital filed for bankruptcy last week and wound down to its last 60 inpatients, with about two-thirds of its medical and support staff having received notice of termination by this week.

But Village attorneys are going to court to keep St. Vincent’s as something more than the glorified medical clinic that the state Department of Health has in mind for the 161-year-old institution, the last Catholic hospital in Manhattan.

Arthur Schwartz, a lawyer, Democratic state committeeman and Community Board 2 member, announced on Monday that he was suing Richard Daines, state Department of Health commissioner, to stop the state from awarding any contract to operate an urgent-care center at St. Vincent’s in place of its now-closed level 1 trauma center emergency room and acute-care service.

In addition, Yetta Kurland, an attorney and former candidate for the City Council District 3 seat, which includes Greenwich Village and Chelsea, said she would file a suit to prevent St. Vincent’s from shutting down before getting approval from the state Department of Health for a closing plan. A spokesperson for Daines said on Tuesday that the department was reviewing the closing plan.

West Side activists are taking to the streets at 1 p.m. Sat., April 24, in a march — starting at Ninth Ave. and 25th St. and going to St. Vincent’s, at 12th St. and Seventh Ave. — calling on the state to save the hospital’s emergency care. For more information phone 917-734-5075 or e-mail jesse.campoamor@gmail.com or log on to www.westsidenyc.org .

Kurland said she was representing 25 St. Vincent’s patients, including Richard Stack, an AIDS survivor who lives three blocks from St. Vincent’s and frequently has been admitted as an emergency acute-care patient. Stack developed complications on Monday morning and had to go to another hospital, Kurland said.

Schwartz, who is suing on behalf of the tenants association of the Robert Fulton Houses — a New York City Housing Authority project in Chelsea — and its president, Miguel Acevedo, said, “An urgent-care center is no more than a clinic and runs counter to the [Health] commissioner’s mandate.”

Schwartz is also representing in the suit the national Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which claims 20,000 members in the state. He said the state constitution requires the state “to provide aid, care and support for the needy and provide for the protection and support for the health of the inhabitants.”

Closing the full-service St. Vincent’s is particularly dangerous to Fulton Houses residents, who now must go farther away to Bellevue Hospital on the East Side for care, Schwartz said.

On April 8, the state Health commissioner issued a request for proposals, or R.F.P., to run an urgent-care center at St. Vincent’s. The state Health Department had received four proposals by the April 17 deadline, but the respondents’ names were not released because, by law, they cannot be made public until a contract is awarded.

“We’re asking a judge to enjoin the commissioner from signing any contract for urgent care, and we’ll ask the court to order Daines to use state funds to open an acute-care center,” Schwartz said.

He added that if other plaintiffs sued the hospital directly it would put the matter before a bankruptcy judge and make it depend on a long, complex process.

Schwartz said the suit charges that Daines was aware that St. Vincent’s was about to fail, and took “insufficient action to protect the health of people on the Lower West Side.” The action also charges Daines with failing to reach a deal with Mt. Sinai Hospital to rescue St. Vincent’s.

Daines told a television reporter last week that the state is seeking an urgent-care center operator that would see patients without appointment and operate 24 hours, seven days a week. An urgent-care center should be able to perform basic medical imaging, like X-rays, and minor procedures, like stitches, incisions, cyst removal and splints. In addition, the center would have to provide rapid transportation to full-service emergency rooms to handle life-threatening conditions, Daines said.

The Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy filed by St. Vincent’s lists liabilities of more than $1 billion. The bankruptcy filing also notes that St. Vincent’s has been able to meet payroll obligations only because of loans from New York State and the hospital’s main creditors. St. Vincent’s lawyers said that GE Capital and TD Bank — which between them hold more that $300 million in St. Vincent’s debt — have agreed to provide up to $85 million more in financing to pay for services, including payroll, while the case is in bankruptcy.

The hospital has also entered into nonbinding letters of intent to sell its facilities located outside of Manhattan, including the Bishop Mugavero Center for Geriatric Care, Holy Family Home, Pax Christi Hospice, St. Vincent’s Hospital Westchester and St. Vincent’s Hospital Home Health Agency, according to the bankruptcy filing.

On Monday, as part of what St. Vincent’s called its “safe and orderly wind down of operations,” the hospital announced that it had laid off 1,000 workers.