‘We’re not going to give up’; Cry for a hospital continues

By Lincoln Anderson

Holding signs and each other’s hands, more than 100 people ringed the perimeter of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital early Saturday afternoon, demanding the creation of a new Village hospital on the site.

Saddled with more than $1 billion in debt, St. Vincent’s closed the doors of its historic Greenwich Village hospital on April 30. The property is now tied up in bankruptcy court. Funded with part of a $14 million state grant, an urgent-care center is slated to open July 1, very likely in the site of the old St. Vincent’s emergency room, on Seventh Ave., between 11th and 12th Sts.

But critics knock the urgent-care center — known colloquially as “urgie care” among health insiders — as a mere “doc in a box,” and are demanding a full-service hospital.

Before the protesters spread around the hospital to form “Hands Around St. Vincent’s,” speakers called on the powers that be to step in and bring a hospital back to the area.

“Commissioner Daines knows that a hospital is needed in this community,” said Miguel Acevedo, a leader from the Fulton Houses in Chelsea, referring to Richard Daines, head of the state Department of Health. “We’re going to continue to fight. We’re not going to give up,” he pledged.

The event was led by Yetta Kurland, who ran for City Council in the Third District against Speaker Christine Quinn last year, winning a healthy 31 percent of the vote, but losing the race.

“We don’t even know, to this day, if there is an actual closure plan for this hospital,” Kurland charged. “We hear that there are too many hospital beds in Manhattan — but how many beds are there in our community?”

Kurland called on local elected officials to work with her and her Coalition for a New Village Hospital to make a hospital happen.

“This is about inclusivity,” she stressed. “Chris Quinn can be a hero in this, [state Senator] Tom Duane can be a hero in this, [Assemblymember] Dick Gottfried can be a hero in this, and we want to work with them.”

Jay Kallio, a female-to-male transgender person, spoke, saying that a secret about St. Vincent’s was that it was a “progressive” hospital.

“St. Vincent’s welcomed me,” he said. “They treated me and now I am cancer-free.” (As for St. Vincent’s being progressive, someone later noted that, on the other hand, the hospital didn’t perform abortions.)

A former volunteer E.M.T., Kallio said he knows from experience that closing the hospital will cost lives.

“Right now, this entire community is at risk of dying in an ambulance on 14th St. going across town,” he warned.

Eileen Dunn, a former St. Vincent’s nurse and a board member of the New York State Nurses Association, was on the May 21 educational panel organized by Duane at Our Lady of Pompei Church that discussed the challenges of getting a new hospital. But Dunn said the panel members were hardly “health experts,” and that one was a former politician who is now a major healthcare lobbyist.

As for the politicians who attended the educational panel, Dunn said just Assemblymember Deborah Glick seemed to “get it.”

“Deborah Glick seemed to be the only one on our side,” Dunn said. “She’s the only one that still gets this. She didn’t say, ‘urgent care.’ No one can imagine the West Side without a hospital. … And the biggest devil in this is Commissioner Daines,” Dunn accused. “He stopped Mt. Sinai from coming into St. Vincent’s.”

The nurse noted they had reached out to everyone for help — from Obama to Oprah — but no one helped. She urged people not to vote for Andrew Cuomo for governor unless he makes a commitment to bringing a hospital back to the Lower West Side.

Dr. David Kaufman, who was the associate medical director of St. Vincent’s H.I.V. Center, said, “The fact that [St. Vincent’s] was mismanaged for 10 years and driven into the ground is no reason there shouldn’t be a hospital here.” But the mismanagement is reason for “an investigation,” he said. He added that a Level 1 trauma center, like St. Vincent’s had, is needed to treat people who have been hit by cars, shot or stabbed.

“And where was the mayor?” Kaufman asked. “This went on for months and months, and I don’t remember hearing a single word from the mayor.”

Like Dunn, Kaufman said Daines put the kibosh on Mt. Sinai Medical Center’s bid to take over the hospital, dooming it to closure.

“They said they were prepared to do it,” he said of Mt. Sinai. “But they pulled out after they had a conversation on the phone with the commissioner of Health.”

Jim Fouratt, a member of the Village Independent Democrats political club, blasted local politicians for not attending “Hands Around St. Vincent’s,” and chided his own club over the fact that he was the only V.I.D.’er there. He claimed the hospital site had been rezoned for residential development for the Rudin Organization’s development project, and that the zoning must be restored to hospital use. But, in fact, the site is still zoned for hospital use.

Kurland urged everyone to show up at the June 14 meeting of Community Board 2’s St. Vincent’s Omnibus Committee — where a Lenox Hill Hospital representative will discuss the replacement urgent-care clinic — to keep the pressure on.

Afterward, Kurland told The Villager that 500 people had ringed the hospital during the event. But a Villager reporter and photographer independently counted the people standing around the hospital, the reporter coming up with 125 and the photographer with “more than 100.”

After the rally, Lower East Side activist Susan Howard used a staple gun to tack up the protest posters on the plywood covering St. Vincent’s former E.R.