This letter is part of an ongoing conversation around the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) and the closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital. It is written in response to a letter submitted by Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the GVSHP, which also appears in this issue. The initial letter to the editor on this topic, from Dr. Alec Pruchnicki, appeared in the December 2016 issue of WestView and responded to a November 2016 letter by Gary Tomei.
Despite how it seems, I am a member and supporter of the GVSHP in almost all of its activities. But if it wants credit for successes like the recent St. John’s and South Village landmarking decisions, it must also take a little blame for failures, even inadvertent ones, like the demise of St. Vincent’s Hospital.
Yes, there were many reasons for the hospital’s collapse, including the massive and complex nature of the 2007 rescue plan, hospital mismanagement, and the lack of support from the Department of Health (DOH), if not outright sabotage, when Mount Sinai was looking at a takeover.
But, if various community groups and individuals had come out as strongly to support the hospital—if not the exact Rudin plan—as they did to pick apart one detail after another, then maybe a tentative plan could have been assembled before the housing market collapsed in 2008. Or maybe the DOH would have given more support to St. Vincent’s directly, or to the Mount Sinai acquisition proposal. After 2008, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approval in 2009 was worthless. Nobody in the community wanted the hospital to close but (and I heard the word ‘but’ a lot at the time) there was no willingness to at least attempt the sacrifices that might have kept it open.
A few historical building exteriors on 11th and 12th Streets were preserved, and there were height restrictions, but what wasn’t preserved was the hospital itself.
I’ll stop criticizing community groups, of whatever type, when they start taking responsibility for their mistakes, even unintended ones.
—Alec Pruchnicki, MD
From 2003 through 2010, Dr. Alec Pruchnicki worked in the Department of Medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital. He has served in a variety of nursing homes, hospitals, and community clinics in New York City, focusing on geriatric medicine.