With St. Vincent’s closing, Downtown Hospital prepared to help
By Julie Shapiro and Lincoln Anderson
New York Downtown Hospital is opening its doors to those who will have nowhere to go when St. Vincent’s Hospital closes.
“We’re prepared to step up for the community,” Sarah Jones, spokesperson for Downtown Hospital, said on Wednesday. “We consider St. Vincent’s catchment area to be our catchment area as well.”
St. Vincent’s board of directors voted Tuesday to end the financially struggling hospital’s inpatient services, including all acute, rehab and behavioral health. There is no definite timeline for the closure, but elective surgeries will end by April 14, St. Vincent’s said in a release Tuesday evening.
“This outcome is very unfortunate but not unexpected, and the city began preparing for this possibility weeks ago,” Mayor Mike Bloomberg said in a statement Tuesday night. “The F.D.N.Y. is prepared to begin operating the 13 ambulance tours currently provided by St. Vincent’s as soon as they are needed, and while the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation is also facing its own budget shortfalls, H.H.C. is committed to providing care to any New Yorker who needs it.”
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote, as various rescue plans for St. Vincent’s fell through, Downtown Hospital’s senior doctors and administrators met with St. Vincent’s to draft a contingency plan. As part of that plan, Jones said Downtown Hospital signed a transfer agreement, granting any St. Vincent’s patients the automatic right to move to Downtown Hospital, which is in the Financial District about 2 miles away from the Village hospital.
Assuming St. Vincent’s emergency room closes, or significantly cuts back its services, Downtown Hospital expects to see an uptick in emergency patients. New York Downtown can handle an additional 20,000 people a year, a 50 percent increase in the current number of visitors to the $200 million emergency room, which opened several years ago, Jones said.
However, while St. Vincent’s has pediatric staff in its emergency room, Downtown Hospital does not. Downtown Hospital currently sends children who need immediate care to New York-Presbyterian Hospital on 68th St. but may consider adding pediatricians to its emergency room, Jones said.
Community Board 1 sent a letter in February imploring officials to find a way to keep St. Vincent’s open, citing the lack of pediatricians in Downtown Hospital’s E.R. as one of the reasons.
The hospital is also talking to the F.D.N.Y. about adding extra ambulances to make up for the ones that will no longer be serving St. Vincent’s, Jones said.
Tuesday’s vote to close St. Vincent’s capped the Catholic hospital’s six-month struggle to survive.
“The decision to close St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan inpatient services was made only after the board, management and our advisors exhausted every possible alternative,” Alfred E. Smith IV, chairperson of the board of Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened that we were unable to come up with a viable plan to save the inpatient services at the hospital that has proudly served Manhattan’s West Side and Downtown for 160 years.”
St. Vincent’s outpatient services, including the cancer and H.I.V./AIDS centers, will continue to operate, Smith said.
Politicians including Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Borough President Scott Stringer and State Sen. Tom Duane rallied in front of St. Vincent’s Wednesday morning, urging the state Dept. of Health not to approve a closure plan for the hospital until there is another emergency care option in the neighborhood.
Congressmember Jerrold Nadler said in a statement that St. Vincent’s should continue offering an urgent-care facility “to provide the vital health services needed on the Lower West Side.”
Over the past two months, Nadler and other elected officials worked with stakeholders on Gov. Paterson’s St. Vincent’s Task Force to find a way to preserve an acute-care facility at the hospital. Nadler said Tuesday night that he was “saddened” to hear of the board’s vote.
St. Vincent’s closure plan will require all patients to be discharged or transferred to other hospitals. Patients will receive more information soon and can also visit www.svcmc.org.
“The hospital’s highest priority remains the health and safety of its patients,” St. Vincent’s said in its press release.
The remaining parts of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, including nursing homes, the home health agency, St. Vincent’s Hospital Westchester and U.S. Family Health Plan will continue to operate but will likely be sold soon.
Staff at St. Vincent’s hospital is already partway out the door, according to a Greenwich Village woman who called Downtown Express late Tuesday afternoon. The woman said her doctor at St. Vincent’s Cancer Center had informed her on Monday that the hospital would close at the end of the month. St. Vincent’s doctors were taking new jobs elsewhere, or taking vacations, she said he had told her.