The Lost Hospital: Was It Greed That Killed Saint Vincent’s?

By Roger Paradiso

I found a 2016 article in the WestView News archives by Dr. M. Zakir Sabry who used to work at St. Vincent’s. He wrote, “As I drove down Seventh Avenue about two years ago, the sight of former St. Vincent’s Hospital’s sacred ground evoked a similar visceral response. Unlike my father’s passage, however, the untimely death of St. Vincent’s was largely man-made. Hence, a sense of anguish often still overshadows the sense of eternal loss.” 

George Capsis speaking at a demonstration in the fight for St.Vincent’s, October, 2010. Photo by Maggie Berkvist.

The vultures were circling St. Vincent’s for years. Founded by the Sisters of Charity in 1849, the hospital’s mandate was to treat everyone who walked through its doors whether they were able to pay or not. But that is not how America proceeded regarding healthcare. The modern hospitals, decades later, were given a mandate to be profitable. This is not to say that many, if not all, hospitals today would not take on “charity cases” for those without insurance. St. Vincent’s always accepted charity cases for those without insurance. There was a price to pay for charity, which St. Vincent’s found out.

 The death of St. Vincent’s began at a board meeting on April 8, 2010. The agenda was: who will take over St. Vincent’s? There were many plans and many suitors. The decision was a shocker. Suddenly, when the board meeting was over, there was no plan found worthy for the survival of the hospital. St. Vincent’s was put on life support by the board with the approval of the New York State Commissioner of Health. It was now hospice care for St. Vincent’s. 

All city and private ambulances were told to stop bringing patients to St. Vincent’s as of April 9th. The emergency room was effectively closed. On April 14th the 3600 employees were given two weeks’ notice. Truth is, many had already left over the last several years. The hospital had downsized from 650 hospital beds in 1986 to about 400 beds in 2010. 

A triage staff of about 300 nurses and staff was maintained until all patients could be relocated. Walk-ins to the dying E.R. would be stabilized and transferred to other hospitals if needed. On April 30th the hospital was taken off life support and died. St. Vincent’s was officially lost and its liquidation was off to the races. Eventually, all the hospital buildings on 11th and 12th Streets were sold and expensive condos and townhouses were built. Was it greed that killed St. Vincent’s? 

I interviewed George Capsis for my film The Lost Village. I asked George, “What did you lose when St. Vincent’s closed?” He talked about the time he took his wife to the emergency room many years ago.

“It was two o’clock in the morning when Maggie discovered that, with blood thinners to avoid a blockage in a newly-implanted heart stent, her nose would not stop bleeding—it flowed; but it really gushed, and for the first time in our 55 years of marriage I saw fear in her eyes. We got dressed and walked to the St. Vincent’s emergency room, and a very calm, very mature nurse stopped and asked us to stay a while, ‘just to be sure.’

“So there we were, sitting with a dozen or more recovering emergency room patients, and I tried to guess what they were in for. The serious ones were silent with closed eyes, and some with bandages, but there was a very young girl, who at a party took drugs for the first time. And then there was the guy too drunk to drive home to Brooklyn, just sleeping it off,” Mr. Capsis said. 

To this day, George has been on a mission to bring back a large full-service hospital to the Lower West Side community that has a growing population and exactly zero beds. For those who don’t know, St. Vincent’s was a level one trauma center, and a great community hospital that served the people well.

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