A New York City Catholic institution is now in critical condition, on the verge of closing.
For more than 150 years, St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan was a beacon in Greenwich Village, serving poets, writers, artists, winos, the poor and the working-class and gay community.
It treated victims of calamities, from the cholera epidemic of 1849 to the sinking of the Titanic, the 9/11 terrorist 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, which saved her uncle’s life in 1892 after he was accidentally locked in the hold of a ship for several days without food or water.
But last week, in what could mean the death knell of the last Roman Catholic general hospital in New York City, a big 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 into the chain’s own hospitals uptown and across town to the east.
How St. Vincent’s went from a cherished neighborhood amenity to a relic of times past is a chronicle of mismanagement compounded by the economics of the health care industry, changes in the fabric of a historic neighborhood and the low profit potential in religious work.
It was once part of the Roman Catholic social and political machine in New York City, a cradle-to-grave embrace of parishioners who were born in a Catholic hospital, educated in parochial schools, married in the church and given last rites by a priest.
Last week, a day after the announcement of the proposed takeover, members of the Sisters of Charity, the Catholic order that founded the hospital in 1849, gathered in a noon Mass at St. Vincent’s and vowed to fight. “We are not going away,” said Sister Jane Iannucelli, vice chairwoman of the hospital board, standing in the light of the stained glass windows.
“One of the things that’s so crucial to the Sisters of Charity is serving the poor,” she said after the Mass.
It was that very calling, some industry executives suggested, that may have helped make the hospital obsolete.
“Helping the poor is indeed the mission and the cause célèbre,” said Kenneth E. Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospitals Association, a trade group. “Therein lies the dilemma.”
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