Letters to the Editor

Diagnosing St. Vincent’s ills

To The Editor:

Re “Hospital deserves a bailout, like banks, many say at rally” (news article, Feb. 3) and “Save St. Vincent’s” (editorial, Feb. 3):

If the state is to bail out St. Vincent’s it need look no further than its 1997 restructuring of Adelphi University for a model.  

St. Vincent’s is in trouble because it is carrying hundreds of millions of dollars in pension and malpractice debt not its own, the legacy of an ill-conceived merger with a bunch of impaired and failing hospitals that also wiped out St. Vincent’s endowment.

St. Vincent’s is in trouble because it blew its chance to shed that debt in bankruptcy by settling at 98 cents on the dollar. 

St. Vincent’s is in trouble because its consultants made sweetheart deals with H.M.O.’s for reimbursement rates so scandalous many wanted an investigation.

St. Vincent’s is in trouble because its accounting department is notorious for failing to properly bill the covered and comfortable for services and procedures performed.

St. Vincent’s is in trouble because, uniquely among New York City hospitals, the board has not made fundraising a driving priority. 

It is the trustees of St. Vincent’s and their parade of hired consultants and managers who have bilked and enfeebled the once proud institution, not the doctors, nurses or janitors.

A full-service hospital with E.R. and acute care may yet be viable. Like Adelphi, St. Vincent’s is a functional institution with a quality professional faculty brought low by board malpractice, not marketplace failure. At Adelphi, New York State forced out the entire board (save one) and management staff. It worked. A similar housecleaning is needed if St. Vincent’s is to survive — let alone steward further taxpayer dollars. 

Cormac Flynn

Hospital was great until…

To The Editor:

Re “St. Vincent’s still on life support, as takeover is off” (news article, Feb. 10):

I retired five years ago. I was a registered nurse, and then a nurse practitioner at St. Vincent’s Hospital for 30 years. I went to the St. Vincent’s Hospital Nursing School. It was a wonderful hospital. The physicians working there gave of their time and money to support the hospital in any way they could. The nursing staff were exceptional, and constantly gave of themselves. They were very proud of their reputation for giving excellent care. 

About 10 years ago, everything changed. The hospital board voted to take on four failing hospitals in the outer boroughs (Queens and Brooklyn). These hospitals required significant financial support, which eventually brought St. Vincent’s Hospital down. This is the primary cause of the bankruptcy that we now see.

Within this 10-year time period, services began to be downsized, including staff. We went through several C.E.O.’s collecting salaries not in line with a hospital in trouble, but more for a thriving business on Wall St. The physicians heading departments had their salaries cut in half at Christmas. That same Christmas, the executive staff collected their usual salaries, plus bonuses.   

This hospital did not suddenly go bankrupt. It had a lot of help.  

Sheila Mahon Ruvolo, M.S., N.P.

Praying for St. Vincent’s

To The Editor:

Re “St. Vincent’s still on life support, as takeover is off” (news article, Feb. 10):

The current crisis surrounding the future of St. Vincent’s Hospital has been characterized by conflict and controversy over a set of complex and difficult issues: urban development versus historic preservation; for-profit medicine versus nonprofit, faith-based healthcare; and the myriad issues surrounding healthcare reform that currently occupy much of our national debate. Certainly, there are also allegations of mismanagement on the part of many parties. These issues touch on controversies that range from arguments on the street corners of the Village to debates in Albany and Washington.

The people of the Episcopal Church of St. Luke in the Fields who serve as volunteers at St. Vincent’s see this issue from a somewhat more intimate, human perspective. Volunteers from St. Luke’s began visiting the bedsides of people with H.I.V./AIDS at St. Vincent’s in the earliest years of the epidemic, offering tea, snacks and companionship to patients, nurses and caregivers. When patients with H.I.V./AIDS were segregated in isolated units, our volunteers were there with them. When H.I.V. patients were integrated into the general population and treatments improved, our volunteers followed suit and our work at St. Vincent’s became “An AIDS Ministry for All People.”

Those who are engaged in the work of building the just, ethical and compassionate society some still dare to refer to as God’s kingdom are saddened and discouraged whenever an institution like St. Vincent’s, founded here by the Sisters of Charity in 1849, runs into hard times. Maintaining a fiscally healthy, faith-based institution in Manhattan becomes more difficult with each passing year, and meeting the skyrocketing costs of simply existing in this, the most expensive real estate in the country, requires such organizations to be endlessly resourceful and creative. For-profit enterprises, even in difficult times like these, seem able to crowd out charitable organizations whose mission must take priority over profits. Occasionally, these pressures mean we are forced to capitalize our only fungible asset — real estate — to meet these demands, running the risk of alienating neighbors in the process.

Crafting solutions that balance these interests is the hard work ahead for policymakers and community activists, regardless of the ultimate fate of St. Vincent’s. It is absolutely clear that Lower Manhattan needs a hospital like St. Vincent’s. For it is the people who rely on St. Vincent’s for their healthcare — the indigent as well as the affluent, the chronically ill and the critically injured — who are at the center of this storm. Perhaps to a mortal fault, St. Vincent’s has remained true to its mission to offer compassionate care for all people. Let us pray that New York City can find room for St. Vincent’s in its moment of need; St. Vincent’s has certainly always found room for New Yorkers.

Reverend Caroline M. Stacey

Stacey is rector, Episcopal Church of St. Luke in the Fields

St. Vincent’s saved me

To The Editor:

Re “Hospital deserves a bailout, like banks, many say at rally” (news article, Feb. 3) and “Hospital in critical condition” (letter, by Susan Leelike, Feb. 3):

Thank you for Albert Amateau’s fine reporting on the 1199 meeting on behalf of St. Vincent’s.

This letter, however, is to counter the letter anecdotally commenting on the writer’s unspecified adverse experience as a patient at St. Vincent’s.

My experiences were positive. My life was saved twice at St. Vincent’s within the past five years.

In 2005, I was saved from potentially fatal massive blood clots in both lungs. My inpatient care was excellent, my recovery complete.

In 2009, I suffered a serious heart attack a few blocks away from the hospital. I was whisked by an ambulance to St. Vincent’s and into the cath lab, where my blocked artery was stented within minutes (“minutes save heart muscle”) by a cardiologist renowned for this procedure. My inpatient care was extraordinarily fine and my recovery is complete.

A Manhattan resident of 70 years (including more than 15 in the Village), I’ve visited patients in a number of the city’s hospitals, including some very well-funded hospitals, so I do not lightly use the term “extraordinarily fine” to describe my St. Vincent’s care.

My experiences further persuade me that St. Vincent’s must be saved as a full-service hospital to continue to save lives in our community.

Aline Kessler

A tragedy on many levels

To The Editor:

“St. Vincent’s still on life support, as takeover is off” (news article, Feb. 10):

St. Vincent’s is staring at a greater debt than any one institution should have. The tragedy here will be if they choose to close this hospital. If a Wall St. professional should have a heart attack, if a firefighter should fall victim to smoke inhalation while on the job on the West Side of the city, if a child has a sudden asthma attack or suffers a compound fracture while in school or if the city suffers another terrorist attack — by the time anyone could be taken to the closest Level 1 trauma center by the E.M.T.’s, that person would either be dead, near death or suffer a horrendous infection, which would end up costing the individuals affected, as well as their families, a lot more than it reasonably should.  

St. Vincent’s closure would not only be devastating to residents and businesses in the surrounding communities, but to St. Vincent’s employees as well. St. Vincent’s employees are the heart and soul of the institution. Take, for example, my mother. She has been an open-heart, critical-care nurse for the past 30 years. St. Vincent’s is her home. She loves fresh hearts. Treating these patients is her passion. 

St. Vincent’s staff, doctors, residents and, especially, its nurses are as close to perfection at their jobs as we can find anywhere, anyplace. Many of the employees there bleed St. Vincent’s.

Nicole Rizzuto 

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