Volume 20, Number 48 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 13 - 19, 2011

Editorial

The best health option

In her ruling last week approving the sale of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital property to Rudin Management, Bankruptcy Judge Cecilia Morris made it clear that she felt there was no likelihood that alternatives to the Rudin plan with North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System would emerge. Given the current, contracting state of healthcare, plus the last-minute, nebulous nature of the only alternative plan of which we are aware, unfortunately, we have to agree with her.

Like most residents and businesses of Greenwich Village and the Lower West Side, we genuinely wish a full-service, acute-care hospital could be restored at the former St. Vincent’s location. But, as we’ve stated before, sadly, that just doesn’t seem to be in the cards. The state Department of Health must approve any new hospital, and for years, the official position has been that Downtown Manhattan has too many hospital beds.

Reusing part of the main St. Vincent’s campus on the east side of Seventh Ave. or a scaled-down hospital isn’t an option, either, because the hospital’s main campus is the primary asset to be used to pay off the creditors of St. Vincent’s, which closed last April with $1 billion in debt. Rudin plans to pay $260 million for this property.

That leaves the O’Toole Building on the west side of Seventh Ave., where North Shore-L.I.J. plans a $110 million Center for Comprehensive Care, including a 24/7 emergency department. This is the best plan for restoring a vital healthcare safety net for our community.

This facility will have a staff of 400—admittedly, not all will work the same shift—far more than the handful of staff at an urgent-care center. It will be staffed by board-certified emergency physicians and nurses. It will feature a full-service imaging center, and offer specialized ambulatory surgery.

True, if someone needs major cardiac surgery or neurosurgery, this won’t be the place; but ambulances will be on hand to transport patients to the appropriate nearby hospital. Fire Department E.M.S. will help set a clear protocol for E.M.T.’s and paramedics who operate the ambulances, so they’ll know whether patients should go to the O’Toole emergency department or to nearby hospitals like Bellevue and New York Downtown Hospital.

Some critics charge that this new stand-alone emergency department will put people’s lives at risk, because, they claim, valuable minutes will be lost if patients in critical condition are wrongly taken there. But, again, E.M.T.’s and paramedics, as well as the staff at the Center for Comprehensive Care, will know where patients need to go.

Furthermore, this new emergency room will save lives by lessening the pressure on surrounding emergency rooms, currently overloaded after St. Vincent’s closing. And it will save lives because that’s what an emergency department does: It’s estimated this center with an E.D. will see 30,000 patients in its first year.

If someone should arrive with, say, a serious head injury or gunshot wound, this emergency room will have advanced life-support technologies to keep the patient alive and stabilize her until she can be transported to a hospital.

North Shore-L.I.J. plans to leave a floor of O’Toole unprogrammed, and will reach out to the community to see what healthcare uses people want there. That’s a great idea.

As for the group, including former Councilmember Alan Gerson, pushing an eleventh-hour plan for a full-service hospital, at last week’s Bankruptcy Court hearing, their attorney couldn’t even state the names of any developers or hospitals associated with them. The expression “a day late and a dollar short” comes to mind.

Again, we all want a full-service hospital. But trying to delay the Rudin-North Shore-L.I.J. plan is only depriving the community of the only replacement healthcare facility it can realistically expect to get.

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