For more than 150 years, St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan has been a beacon in Greenwich Village, serving poets, writers, artists, winos, the poor and the working-class, and gay people.
It has treated victims of calamities: the cholera epidemic of 1849, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the 9/11 attack and, just last year, the Hudson River landing of US Airways Flight 1549. The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay got her middle name from the hospital, where her uncle’s life was saved in 1892 after he was accidentally locked in the hold of a ship for several days without food or water.
But today the hospital is struggling, and last week, in what could mean the death knell of the last Roman Catholic general hospital in New York City, a chain of hospitals proposed to take over St. Vincent’s, shut down its inpatient beds and most of its emergency room services, and convert it into an outpatient center tied to hospitals uptown and on the East Side.
How St. Vincent’s went from a cherished neighborhood institution to one threatened with extinction is a chronicle of increasingly troubled management whose problems were made worse by the economics of the health care industry, changes in the fabric of a historic neighborhood and the low profit potential in religious work.
I did my pediatric residency at St. Vincents. I loved that hospital. I figured if I had to slave away for 80 hours a week for 3 years of my life, I might as well slave away in the West Village. They always had a good mission. In fact, too good. It’s no longer financially viable to take care of the sick and the destitute. If everyone gets the same level of care, no matter their ability to pay, mission-based hospitals can no longer survive in today’s profit-driven hospital environment. And now they’re $700 million in the hole and bleeding red like there’s no tomorrow. Looks like there won’t be much of a tomorrow.