One Last Cry
April 16, 2010 3:27 PM   Subscribe

After more than 160 years of treating patients, historic St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City's Greenwich Village filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday and will close its doors to new patients. The last remaining Catholic Hospital in NYC, St. Vincent's was originally founded in 1849 to serve the poor. The effect is already being felt at other hospitals in the area. But despite the filing, there was still time for one last cry: Abigail Jancu was the the last baby ever born in St. Vincent's maternity ward.
posted by zarq (21 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Village Voice link gives some of the hospital's history:
St. Vincent's was the city's first voluntary hospital for the poor, founded in 1849 by a Catholic order, the Sisters of Charity. It aided victims of the cholera and tuberculosis epidemics that swept downtown in repeated waves. In 1911, it treated survivors of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that killed 146 after bosses locked the doors to keep out union organizers; a year later, it took in survivors of the Titanic.

It was where the lowly, the mighty, and the garden-variety zany denizens of downtown were born, cared for, and died. Edna St. Vincent Millay, the Village poet who first proclaimed the lovely light of a candle burned at both ends, was given the hospital's name after it saved her uncle's life. It was where Gregory Corso—the beat poet who "sang Italian songs as sweet as Caruso and Sinatra," as Jack Kerouac said—was born in 1930.

St. Vincent's was where yet another poet, Dylan Thomas, was taken after he collapsed at the White Horse Tavern in 1953. He didn't make it. But the hospital revived Ed Koch when the mayor suffered a fainting spell in 1983. Its doctors repaired Johnny Ramone the same year after an angry fellow musician split his skull in a pre-dawn argument. They did what they could for Daryl Cabey, paralyzed by a slug from subway shooter Bernie Goetz's pistol after he opened up on four youths aboard a downtown IRT train rumbling below the hospital.

It was where owners of the Village's legendary nightclubs drew their last breaths: Barney Josephson, of Café Society, and Bradley Cunningham, of Bradley's, both in 1988; Max Gordon, of the Village Vanguard, just down the street, went in '89. So, too, the Village's last political boss, Carmine DeSapio, who passed away there in 2004.

It was church-run, and for years, a morning prayer was broadcast for patients and staff. Conservative archbishops held sway over policies. But by accident of geography, it played the closest of roles in the lives, and deaths, of its many gay neighbors. St. Vincent's is where they brought Diego Vinales, martyr of the Stonewall riots of 1969 that changed gay life in America. Vinales fell from the roof of the Charles Street precinct while fleeing police. Hundreds of candle-bearing demonstrators held vigil outside as he lay in a coma before he died.

posted by zarq at 3:40 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't decide what part of this debacle vexes me more: the fact that the entire west side down from St. Luke's-Roosevelt no longer has an emergency room, or my horrible suspicion that NYU will extend its plague of manifest destiny to engulf the West Village as well. DO NOT WANT.
posted by elizardbits at 3:47 PM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

The "filed for bankruptcy protection" link requires a subscription.
posted by Dojie at 3:51 PM on April 16, 2010

My baby was born at St. Vincents nearly two years ago. I'm sad that when she's a teenager I won't be able to take her along and take an embarrassing photo of her in front of the hospital.
posted by gaspode at 3:58 PM on April 16, 2010

I wish I could feel bad about this, but I had one of the worst experiences of my life at St Vincents last year. It was a horrible, incomprehensible four day ordeal and ever since it happened I've referred to this place as the Kafka Memorial Hospital. I'm sure this is a bad thing for the neighborhood, but personally: good riddance.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 4:05 PM on April 16, 2010

The Sisters of Charity were founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American to be canonized. Her shrine is in Emmitsburg, Maryland and is a beautiful spot for a day-trip.
posted by jquinby at 4:05 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

The "filed for bankruptcy protection" link requires a subscription.

Crap. Sorry. I was logged in and didn't realize.

This is a scribd link, for those who don't want to go through the free registration process.
posted by zarq at 4:10 PM on April 16, 2010

The fantasy TV series Beauty and the Beast character Vincent was so named for being found there.

More seriously, St. Vincent's has played a particularly important role in the HIV epidemic.
posted by dhartung at 4:12 PM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

While it is sad the place is closing...I lived not far from it --in my last visit to the Village, it seems NYU now owns about 2/3rds of that entire area and is interested in grabbing a piece of Governor's Island, recently sold to the City.

But what I miss, truly: the women's prison, where I would shout up to the inmates in a bit of a drunken stupor.
things change...the Village lost this and that and even ME.
posted by Postroad at 4:17 PM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have two very New York, pretty sad memories of St. Vincent's.

A few nights after 9/11, my chorus sang for the rescue workers down by the World Trace Center site. Walking back uptown, I spotted a ton of papers taped up to the sides of St. Vincent's. They were the first missing posters I saw. Hundreds of people on the wall there, each of whom had a family and friends, searching for them.

My friend, Morgan, died at St. Vincent's of AIDS in December of 2007 of AIDS. A bunch of his friends had spent the whole week there with him, at the same place he had spent so many nights as a volunteer in the late 1980s for the Gay Men's Health Crisis. He died about 10pm on a Friday night, and we all walked over to the Monster to toast him.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:38 PM on April 16, 2010

Many many people have a connection with the hospital. This Denver kid does. I am sorry to see this hospital shut its doors. It has been more than a bookstore or a restaurant. I will always remember it, although I have never set foot inside the place.
posted by kozad at 5:12 PM on April 16, 2010

These are the 9/11 missing persons flyers outside St. Vincents that roomthreeseventeen mentioned. I spent that evening across the street from the hospital.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:26 PM on April 16, 2010

I know that Saint Vincent's has a rich history and it's certainly not a good thing to have a hospital close, but all of this hand-wringing over its closing is starting to put a bad taste in my mouth.

This is the same hospital system that sold two struggling Queens hospitals a few years ago after bleeding them nearly dry trying to keep Saint Vincent's afloat. Those two facilities went belly-up last year and far less effort was made to bail them out. Thanks to that--along with the state-mandated closure of Parkway Hospital--Queens is down 600 hospital beds.

Queens now has 1.6 beds for every 1,000 residents and (before St. Vincent's closed) Manhattan had 7.1 beds for every 1,000 people. Queens has 2.2 million people while Manhattan's population is 1.6 million or so. (Disclosure: I helped write that article.)

The closing of those Queens hospitals sent a flood of impoverished immigrants who relied on those emergency rooms for primary care to the remaining hospitals in the borough. Wait times are often as much as 12 hours in their emergency rooms now.

There were, of course, other factors in the two Queens hospitals closing--the way the state reimburses hospitals for treating patients without private health insurance is a big one. But I can't help but feel like a disproportionate amount of tears and eulogies are being produced for an institution whose disappearance won't affect its immediate urban area anywhere near as much as the loss of its sister facilities.
posted by DeWalt_Russ at 6:16 PM on April 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

While I do not mean to belittle the closings of Mary Immaculate and St. John's in Queens mentioned by DeWalt_Russ above, I will mention that on the first morning of ambulance diversions from St. Vincent's Hospital (i.e., when St. Vincent's ceased to take emergency room cases), mighty Bellevue too was forced to divert ambulances from its own ER because it was overwhelmed with the added demand caused by the St. Vincent's diversion.

Disclaimer: I am a resident physician at St. Vincent's (at least, as long as it remains open), so take what I say with a grain of salt, since the medical and support staff at my soon-to-be-former institution has been overwhelmed with frustration and sadness these past few months.

I will leave any arguing over whether this hospital or that one is more important to a community as a whole to those more well-versed in public health than I, but I did want to share something on a personal note: The day before the St. Vincent's ER stopped taking emergent cases, I admitted a patient who had gone into anaphylaxis from inadvertently eating a Brazil nut. He was unable to breathe due to his throat closing off from the allergic reaction, he needed intubation, and he spent time in our medical ICU. As I watched him get recover under our monitoring, I couldn't help but think that even as little as five more minutes without hospital care, and he would've been dead. The next day, the ER was basically closed. To think that I was a part of the care of one of the very last patients whose life was saved by a 160-year-old institution is... humbling.
posted by sappidus at 8:16 PM on April 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

(oh, I clearly had not read one of the NYT links in the front page post. my bad.)
posted by sappidus at 8:35 PM on April 16, 2010

elizardbits: My father, dead for more than 10 years, referred to NYU as "a cancer on the Village". Like many other things, he was bang on.

My one experience with Saint Vincent's wasn't so good. A girlfriend of a friend of mine had a nervous breakdown (I think she recovered pretty well but haven't heard much from her in years...) and I visited her there. The psych ward there was all painted dark brown with creepy religious symbols everywhere. It was pretty grim, even though the personnel was professional and cheerful.

But that's a tiny carp. The fact is that New York City's hospitals are bursting at the seams - like most places in the US, they are always over 95% full (WTF are they going to do when a real epidemic hits?!) There's absolutely no way I can see this as anything other than bad. I've had my beefs with the Catholic Church but things like Saint Vincent's are - were - one of the good things about it.

posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:41 PM on April 16, 2010

This is one of my current beefs with the Catholic Church leadership. The Archdiocese did very little (at least publicly) to help save St. Vincent's and has decided to get out of the critical care hospital business all together. (They also recently sold their medical school.) This is a terrible idea. The Catholic medical ethos is different than the secular medical ethos and should the Archdiocese should have worked to protect it.
posted by Jahaza at 10:22 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

The next day, the ER was basically closed. To think that I was a part of the care of one of the very last patients whose life was saved by a 160-year-old institution is... humbling.

(oh, I clearly had not read one of the NYT links in the front page post. my bad.)

Think I speak for all of us when I say you're forgiven.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:58 AM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

If NYU would re-open the facility as a hospital, would the hate still go on?

Imagine the Village without NYU -- or really any area where a university has a big footprint. What do you think would be there in its place? Free clinics and waterparks?
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:49 AM on April 18, 2010

PS - I live around the corner from St. Vincents. Now I'm going to have to be a lot more careful when puttering around the house.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:50 AM on April 18, 2010

Yeah, my Dad had a quintuple bypass at St. Vincent's a couple of years ago, my Mom was under observation there with fibrillations, and I've been sewn up in their ER after bar fights and drunken falls. I spent hours there on 9/11 waiting to give blood, which wasn't needed because there were so many dead but so few merely injured. It's been my local hospital all my life and I wish it were staying open.

The hospital wanted to sell off the ugly modernist outpatient building across 7th Avenue but the neighborhood preservationists fought it. Wonder where they'll go now.
posted by nicwolff at 7:00 PM on April 18, 2010

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