Sunday, February 20, 2011

St. Vincent's Hospital Closing : A Mayoral Campaign Issue ?

St. Vincent's Hospital in the West Village was shut down in 2010 after shady backroom meetings of the board, management, and consultants.

The opaque conditions under which St. Vincent’s Hospital closed have yet to be fully investigated.

For example, the closing of St. Vincent’s has been largely acknowledged as having been abrupt, and, what is more, at the time of its closing, there was only what The New York Times described as a “distant promise of an urgent care clinic in its place.”

After it was first announced that St. Vincent’s would be closing, the community it had served first organized in an emergency attempt to save the hospital. After the hospital closed, the community has been organizing to restore a hospital to the area. But it is almost a year later, since the hospital was closed. Unless politicians do something to land-lock the zoning on the St. Vincent’s real estate, it looks like the buildings will be turned into more luxury high rise condominiums by the Rudin Family.

As more and more hospitals close in New York City, residents are finding themselves at greater risk of having fewer ER’s and trauma centers available to them in the event of health care emergencies. After other hospital closings, residents have complained that the New York State Department of Health lacked a plan for providing emergency healthcare for their respective affected communities. In technical terms, the area served by a hospital is called a catchment area.

Hospital Closure Planning Act

In September 2010, New York City leaders urged Gov. David Paterson to sign the Hospital Closure Planning Act, a bill which would have required the state’s Department of Health to hold a public forum and report on the impact of a hospital's closure on the surrounding community's access to medical care. The legislation, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and Senator Shirley L. Huntley (D-Jamaica), came in response to the notorious closings of Mary Immaculate, St. John's, and Parkway hospitals in Queens, and St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan. After these four hospitals closed, each community was outraged and complained that the state lacked a plan for providing adequate and safe replacements of emergency healthcare for the catchment areas.

“A hospital's closing should not mean the closing off of healthcare services for the surrounding community, but that's what happens unless the state listens to the community and makes plans for meeting its healthcare needs," said Assemblyman Lancman.

“Losing a hospital can adversely affect a community and its residents. We’ve seen it happen here in Southeast Queens and most recently in Manhattan, with the closing of St. Vincent’s hospital. Due to current economic climate New York State is facing we must ensure that neighborhoods across the state can access alternative health care when a hospital closes. It is equally important to involve communities in the planned closure of a hospital and in replacing the most important services residents rely on. The residents of the community where a hospital is located have the best understanding of the services they need and what needs to be done,” said Senator Huntley. In October 2010, Gov. Patterson signed the Hospital Closure Planning Act into law after he had vetoed a similar bill in 2009.

Hospital Closure Planning Act Press Conference, September 24, 2010 from NYAD25 on Vimeo.

Hospital Closings As A 2013 Mayoral Campaign Issue ?

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is widely seen to be running for mayor of New York City in the 2013 election, and residents in the Lower West Side are hoping that hospital closings will become a campaign issue. At a community forum in Chelsea on Feb. 16, Mr. Stringer delivered a maverick speech, in which he committed to helping the Lower West Side of Manhattan fight for a full-service hospital to replace St. Vincent’s. He was the only major city politician to attend the forum. The city council member most residents are turning to for help in restoring a full-service hospital in the Lower West Side is Speaker Christine Quinn, but she has a predictably poor track record in fighting for working class New Yorkers (She refuses to support paid sick leave.), much less to save New York City hospitals from closing.

In the time that Ms. Quinn has been Speaker of the New York City Council, at least eight city hospitals have closed. In 2010, North General Hospital in Harlem declared bankruptcy and St. Vincent's Hospital in the West Village shut down after shady backroom meetings. In 2009, two hospitals in Queens – St. John's Queens Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica – went bankrupt. In 2008, Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan and Victory Memorial Hospital in Bay Ridge closed. And in 2007, St. Vincent's Midtown in Manhattan was closed. Separately, one other hospital in Brooklyn, Long Island College Hospital, was recently saved : it had been on the brink of closing, and the only way the hospital was saved was by merging it with SUNY Downstate.

The toll of all of these hospital closings is now being felt across the state, not just in New York City.

Community Imact of All These Hospital Closings ; Didn’t Anybody Predict ER Wait Times Would Rise As A Consequence ?

On average, New Yorkers in medical distress have to wait for almost five hours before they are examined in emergency rooms. This wait time means that New Yorkers have to wait longer for ER treatment than almost anyone else in the United States. The state-wide statistic ranks New York as 46th in the country for wait times, tying the state with Mississippi according to a Press Ganey hospital survey.

From the New York Post :

Industry sources said recent hospital closures have contributed to longer wait times. For example, St. Vincent's Medical Center and North General hospital in Manhattan shut down last year, and about a half-dozen city hospitals have shut down over the last several years.

Last October, New York magazine published an exposé written by Mark Levine, which described the dangerous public health issues resulting from all the hospital closings. “Last year, a pair of hospitals in Queens closed suddenly, just before the outbreak of H1N1, causing overflow conditions in the emergency rooms of nearby facilities, one of which set up a triage area on a loading dock," Mr. Levine wrote.

What is more, in January, The New York Post has made a list of a total of nine hospitals, which would be in danger of closing, if New York State government makes major cuts in Medicaid funding. In Brooklyn, five hospitals were identified as being in danger of closing : Brooklyn Center, Brookdale, Interfaith, Kingsbrook, and Wyckoff. In Queens, two more hospitals were named to be at a high risk of closing : Jamaica and Peninsula. Finally, in the Bronx, two hospitals made the list as being close to teetering onto financial collapse : Westchester Square and St. Barnabas.

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