“George–too bad we couldn’t get Perelman to put his money where it’s needed. America–the land where the rich get richer and big get bigger…love his comment about St. Vincent’s.”
I received this email from Dr. David Kaufman who, after 30 years at St. Vincent’s and an unsuccessful battle to save it, retired to Portola Valley trailing bitter words for our local politicians and the inexorable power of moneyed greed. However, the old battle still stirs. These comments followed billionaire Ronald O Perelman’s gift of $50 million to reopen and expand the NYU emergency room at 33rd Street and 1st Avenue, but here are Perelman’s comments on St. Vincent’s….
“Mr. Perlman already dismayed by the lack of hospitals in the area after St. Vincent’s Hospital closed in 2010, agreed, ‘I just don’t think it is fair to people living down there to have to go way up to New York Hospital at 72nd Street to get emergency treatment.’”
(You may have missed this – Perelman seems to be unaware that West Village 911 callers, are taken to Beth Israel on 16th Street and 1stAvenue and not to NY Presbyterian on 72nd street and 1st Avenue.)
As chance would have it, I was in the NYU emergency room at 33rdStreet and 1st Avenue as a patient – let me tell you the story.
About a year ago, I started to get up when I felt dizzy even nauseous and I knew I could not stand. Maggie, after her lung cancer operation, was frail and now I was the patient and I had to ask her to call 911.
“Where do you want to go?” asked the ambulance driver, and from many visits with Maggie, I knew, only too well, the Beth Israel’s facility on 16th Street and First Avenue so I thought I would try NYU (I was becoming an expert on emergency rooms).
NYU is tiny, only 18 patient treatment positions, curtained off receiving alcoves. They rolled me into one originally designed for one person but already occupied by a plump, self-indulgent man in great audible distress. “I need a cell phone – somebody give me a cell phone.”
A nice nurse confided in me that they often double, even triple the in-flow with patients in the hallway (I recall he saying they had over 60 one night).
Right now, the NYU Emergency Department is closed and has been since Sandy. I discovered this when I emailed the press contact a bunch of questions on the operation and sent a cc to Dr. Kaufman who came back, “Good luck with this George – you will get nada from them…) and he was dead right.
Yet, it was not the “normally” crowed NYU emergency room that had triggered the Perelman gift of $50 million. During Sandy, the power plant of NYU Langone had become flooded so emergency patients were being diverted to New York Presbyterian at 72nd Street and First Avenue and it was to that facility that 70 year-old Mr. Perelman had to take his ill father-in-law and then compared it to the MASH operating tent after a firefight, “It was just like a scene from Vietnam – it was disgraceful.”
So, let us come back to Dr. Kaufman’s wish, “too bad Perelman couldn’t have given the $50 million to build an emergency room in the West Village.” Well, he still can…
Dr. Kaufman pleaded to add five floors to the O’Toole building on 12th Street and 7th Avenue. The added stories could support an emergency room and have beds for emergency patients to recover in – so why not do it now? We might even incorporate the triangular plot between Greenwich Avenue and 12th street for the ambulance entrance and additional beds.
The fact is, emergency rooms need to be built within 15 minutes of the emergency heart attack or stroke victim if he or she is to survive. With the closing of St. Vincent’s, we are out of that zone.
Wait though! With the building of the Rudin billionaire enclave, sooner or later somebody is going to have stroke and when they go across the street to the North Shore LIJ walk in walk out Band-Aid pavilion, they will discover that they just wasted precious minutes and that they need to go to Beth Israel at 16th and First. They will realize that the ambulance that should be there waiting, is off taking the last victim. He will be thinking, “It looks like a hospital, it smells like a hospital but…”
So, the very wealthy people who are moving into Rudin Land or the 93 luxury condos of 150 Charles or the lavishly newly renovated town houses will, sooner or later, need an emergency room and a hospital that has to go with it. Accordingly, we will see other Perelmans, other Langones ready to contribute. The money is there, but what is not is the location and an exciting concept that will attract interest and donations.
In the center fold is a rendering of a proposed hospital residential complex to be built in place of or on top of the St. John Terminal building at West Houston Street and the West Side highway. You may ask why it is so big.
It is the small neighborhood hospitals we are losing. The big ones like NY Presbyterian, Mount Sinai, North Shore LIJ, and Memorial Sloan Kettering are doing just fine and spend on average $5 million a year to advertise on TV to secure rich customers (it costs $10,000 to have a baby in one Long Island hospital).
In the Times article on nearly empty Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill Brooklyn, there was a coded signal referring to the neighborhood being “gentrified,” meaning the hospital was being by-passed by the young, affluent, upwardly mobile and was being used by public housing dwellers for primary care paid for by tax dollars.
No, if you are going to build a new hospital on the Lower West side of Manhattan, it has to be a dozer, it has to be like no other hospital in the world today and that is why I have suggested The New York Center for Medical Electronics.
On 60 Minutes, I watched a segment in which wires were inserted into the brain to allow a woman to “mentally” control a robot arm – millions walk around with an electronic pace makers keeping them alive. One morning, I heard on WNYC of a robot companion to keep the lonely engaged and I was startled to hear my iPhone say, “Hello George, how can I help you?” If we can electronically read the brain, we may be able to correct mental illness and learning disabilities.
So, because more and more of the world’s wealth is falling into fewer and fewer hands and some of those billionaires are living right here in the West Village, there is no shortage of billionaire donors, but we still need that 24 hour operating room, seven days a week with a skilled surgeon ready with a scalpel to remove that fatty blockage in our main artery before we die. We have another advantage that we have not had in 12 years. We have a friend in City Hall who got arrested to save a hospital.
All we need now is a hero to put it all together…
I hope you, reading this, are our man.