Correcting some misperceptions post-St. Vincent’s

By Christine C. Quinn, Jerrold Nadler, Thomas K. Duane and Richard N. Gottfried

As we move forward in the aftermath of the tragic loss of our community hospital, we — the many friends, advocates and supporters of St. Vincent’s — must work together to take all of the positive steps we can to restore emergency and acute-care services to our community. Having all the ammunition we need in this battle is essential. Therefore, documenting the specifics of what services we need with a community health assessment is critical to this mission.

We believe our community needs an acute-care facility and emergency room.  But it will take hard facts to convince a potential hospital operator to invest the necessary hundreds of millions of dollars to finance a new facility, and no one else is going to gather this key data. Therefore, we, as a community, must undertake this process ourselves and work together to compile that information.

Opening a hospital takes more than knowing in our hearts that it is needed and demanding it fervently. It also takes reliable data to document to others that the facility is necessary and will be viable. That’s precisely what we’re trying to do, with the support and participation of a long list of community members, community organizations, healthcare workers and other advocates.

In our efforts to move forward in meeting the health needs of the community, we would like to correct some misconceptions that we have recently heard.

First of all, the assessment is about guiding future healthcare planning efforts and its scope is being driven by a broad coalition of community stakeholders, not by any private parties or special interests.

Additionally, North Shore-L.I.J. has already begun development of its urgent-care center and that center will move forward regardless of the community needs assessment already underway.

We would also like to clarify that while the New York State Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century (the “Berger Commission”) did identify several hospitals and nursing homes as unnecessary and forced mergers and closings, it did not state in the affirmative that every other facility was needed. In a July 15, 2010, letter to Community Board 2, David Sandman, the executive director of the Berger Commission, stated, “The Commission made no specific recommendation or findings regarding St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan — Greenwich Village Campus.”

While Section 2806 of the New York State Public Health Law does require the Health commissioner to make certain findings before closing a hospital, that section only applies if the commissioner, not a hospital’s board, is going to force a hospital to shut down. It has nothing to do with the St. Vincent’s situation. The board of St. Vincent’s decided to close the hospital in no small part because of its overall debt of more than $1 billion, much of which is owed to TD Bank and GE Capital. It is true that a Health Department regulation does require that while a hospital is shutting down, it must care for its patients as it arranges for them to be moved elsewhere.

Unfortunately, we cannot rely on city zoning to force a hospital to re-emerge. Nowhere in the city’s Zoning Resolution does it allow for a local government to force a property owner to use a piece of land for one specific purpose — especially when the land is currently controlled by the federal bankruptcy court. That is the reality of the situation.

And, also unfortunately, neither the federal funds received by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation for rebuilding and revitalizing Downtown post-9/11, nor the federal healthcare grants previously allocated to St. Vincent’s can be used to reopen a hospital. In fact, only after we have the pieces in place for a viable hospital will federal funds — such as mortgage insurance and healthcare grants — be available. By conducting an assessment, and clearly establishing a strong foundation for a hospital, we can and will attract a new sponsor and generate crucial city, state and federal government support.

The bottom line is: There is no magic bullet that’s going to get us a hospital immediately. It will take a lot of hard work to get the decisions made and the financing raised. No one is happy with this situation. In fact, we are all angry and devastated by this tragedy. However, we are taking the needed steps to make our healthcare whole again. Getting good, solid data to prove the case is an essential part of the job. So, too, are demonstrations, letter writing, community building and other advocacy, creativity and strategic thinking and planning. No one tactic is exclusive. All are necessary. We must and we will work together to regain a hospital and, in the meantime, maintain and expand high-quality accessible healthcare for all, regardless of ability to pay.

Quinn is speaker, New York City Council; Nadler is congressmember for the Eighth District; Duane is state senator for the 29th District; Gottfried is assemblymember for the 75th District.