St. Vincent’s faces takeover, may lose acute care and E.R.

By Albert Amateau

St. Vincent’s Hospital is on the verge of another bankruptcy, its second in five years, and its 160-year history as the Village’s full-service hospital appears to be ending, with the hospital facing a possible future as a community health center — with no acute care and limited emergency room service.

Continuum Health Partners, the nonprofit group that operates Beth Israel Medical Center and Roosevelt and St. Luke’s hospitals, has proposed to take over St. Vincent’s, close its Level 1 trauma center, send its acute care patients to other hospitals and operate it only as an expanded outpatient center.

The move, with tacit approval of the State Department of Health, is an attempt to solve St. Vincent’s fiscal problems, including $700 million in debt and a monthly loss of between $5 million and $10 million, according to a New York Post article on Tuesday.

St. Vincent’s worsening finances put in doubt its proposed $1.6 billion redevelopment plan with the Rudin Organization to build a state-of-the-art hospital on the west side of Seventh Ave. at W. 12th St. with residential development of its current buildings on the east side of the avenue to help pay for the new hospital.

Rudin said on Tuesday that the organization “remains committed to working with all the stakeholders in St. Vincent’s, including elected officials, the local community and all concerned, to ensure the healthcare needs of Greenwich Village and the West Side will continue to be met.”

Henry Amoroso, St. Vincent’s president and C.E.O., said in a statement that state budget cuts over the last two years “and the worst recession in many decades have combined to present St. Vincent’s with some serious financial challenges.” Amoroso went on to say that working with St. Vincent’s lenders, “as well as other healthcare providers…we can emerge as a stronger healthcare system for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who we treat every year.”

The Post article said that GE Capital and TD Bank, which hold $300 million in St. Vincent’s debt between them, support the Continuum plan.

Elected officials, however, responded with pleas to the State Department of Health and St. Vincent’s not to let the full-service hospital close.

In a joint letter, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, state Senator Tom Duane, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler called on State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines to hold off on approving the move until after reviewing the impacts on essential healthcare services.

“If the state allows [Continuum] to remove emergency care it would paralyze medical assistance on the West Side of Manhattan,” said Quinn. “Every minute an ambulance has to travel longer to reach a hospital is another minute with a life in jeopardy.”

“St. Vincent’s is an essential resource for New Yorkers, serving as the only Level 1 trauma center below 59th St. and any reduction in its operation would be a disaster,” Nadler said.

“Closing this hospital, with its H.I.V. program and its culturally sensitive primary, nursing and long-term care is unacceptable,” said Duane.

Glick said that the loss of a full-service hospital puts the neighborhood’s health and safety in danger.

“Some ambulatory care service in no way compensates West Side neighborhoods for the loss,” Glick said.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried noted that St. Vincent’s was the primary admitting hospital after the World Trade Center attack in 2001.

“We must do everything possible to protect St. Vincent’s,” he said.

Stringer said that St. Vincent’s serious financial hardship should not be the only criteria for deciding the hospital’s future.

“State D.O.H. Commissioner Richard Daines’s connection to Continuum Health Partners raises serious concerns about potential conflicts of interest and only amplifies the need for a real public review and transparency on this proposal,” Stringer said.

Daines was chief executive officer of Continuum from 2002 to 2007, when he was named state Health commissioner three years ago; a department spokesperson noted that state law requires a two-year recusal by state officials from issues involving former employers.

“Any implication that [Daines] has a conflict of interest is wrong,” said Claudia Hutton, the department spokesperson.

“The Manhattan borough president is welcome to join the department in its efforts to work with St. Vincent’s to find a solution, particularly if he can provide the $5 million to $10 million a month needed to keep St. Vincent’s operating,” said Hutton.

She added, “St. Vincent’s board of directors and management came to the conclusion that they are no longer viable as a stand-alone community hospital, and that they needed to seek a corporate partner, in addition to restructuring.”

Continuum issued a statement that St. Vincent’s board had requested the proposal “as an alternative to financial liquidation. If St. Vincent’s is able to continue to meet its mission on its own, they have our full support,” the Continuum statement said.

Jo Hamilton, chairperson of Community Board 2, said she was very concerned about the plight of St. Vincent’s.

“Our priority is to ensure that our local neighborhoods and all of Downtown Manhattan have the very best in healthcare services,” Hamilton said.

Emma DeVito, director of Village Care of New York, which operates a nursing home, a senior service center and a center serving people with H.I.V., said, “We know St. Vincent’s as a tireless partner in our work to provide Downtown and West Side residents with the high-quality care and services that they need.”

Kevin Finnegan, political director of 1199 United Hospital Workers, said the union would hold a public forum on the St. Vincent’s situation at Our Lady of Pompei Church, 25 Carmine St. at Bleecker St., from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thurs., Jan. 28.

“Don’t let New York City’s last Catholic hospital close,” Finnegan said. “Lower Manhattan and West Side residents deserve to have access to emergency service and acute care.”