Streams

St. Vincent's Hospital Closes Its Doors

Friday, April 30, 2010

This morning's closure of bankrupt St. Vincent's Hospital, a 160-year institution in Greenwich Village, has people in the area expressing sadness and uncertainty about the future.

The head of St. Vincent's department of emergency medicine, Dr. Eric Legome, was in the middle of spelling his name for reporters when he began to cry and walked away.

Mohamed Abuelenen was the last patient treated this morning; he walked into the ER because of an asthma attack. He says when he saw the empty beds and heard the hospital was about to close for good, he thought it was some kind of joke.

"I was gonna leave," Abuelenen says. "Then they said they're gonna treat me, so I stayed. They're all nice people in there. So I wish them good luck."

Passing by with her dog, longtime area resident Alice Leonard said she can't imagine life without her neighborhood hospital.

"I love St. Vincent's, and all my doctors are here," she says.

What will she do now that it's closed? "Stay healthy," she says. "Walk more with my dog. Sad, huh?"

Today's closure is also creating uncertainty for doctors and nurses who don't know where they're going to be working next. And it's putting pressure on other New York City hospitals that have been taking patient transfers from St. Vincent's, according to Dr. Joseph Rahimian.

"It's very hard to accommodate those people," Rahimian says. "It's also very hard to accommodate them suddenly. Some of the hospitals have plans to expand, but that doesn't happen overnight."

The city has deployed extra ambulances to the area to bring emergency cases to other hospitals; two were stationed near St. Vincent's in case someone mistakenly comes for care.

Eileen Dunn, president of the nurses union at Saint Vincent's, says the atmosphere in the ER was "like a funeral" early this morning. She says the closure will leave everyone in Lower Manhattan unsafe.

"You have no hospital to go to now," Dunn says. "Nobody to save your life, unless you go all the way over to the East Side. Urgent care is not gonna make it."

Dunn is referring to a 24-hour urgent care center that Lenox Hill Hospital plans to open in the neighborhood with more than $9 million in state funding. It's not clear where that facility will be located or when it will open.

Some local community leaders and elected officials say such a facility won't be sufficient; they're holding a town hall meeting tonight on how to continue the fight for a hospital in Lower Manhattan.

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