Some 260 malpractice claims pending against New York City's St. Vincent's
Hospital in Greenwich Village face an uncertain fate due to the closing
of the debt-ridden institution. St. Vincent's board voted to cease
operations due to a staggering debt load of about $1 billion. The hospital
filed for liquidation in bankruptcy court, an action that means claims
will be paid according to a priority schedule that gives preference to
payroll obligations, secured debts and other creditor claims over contingent
Although malpractice claimants decry the injustice of hospital employees
and creditors dividing up the hospital trust account while their own injuries
go uncompensated, they are not the only parties put out by the hospital's
closing. The low-income Greenwich Village residents who relied on St.
Vincent's for their care worry about gaps in services. Traffic and
travel time are also major concerns for residents who must now travel
further to obtain emergency care.
The emergency room of the nearest remaining hospital, Bellevue, may be
overwhelmed with the influx of former St. Vincent's patients. To address
that possibility, New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. asked the state
for funding to beef up staffing at Bellevue. Roosevelt and Beth Israel
are also increasing their staffing to prepare for an anticipated increase
in ER patients due to St. Vincent's closing. And it's not only
the former St. Vincent's patients who need to be concerned - their
migration to other hospitals will affect service to existing patients
there unless staffing is sufficiently ramped up to meet the new demand.
Who else stands to lose with the closing of this 160-year-old institution?
Pregnant women hoping to experience natural childbirth with the assistance
of midwives. St. Vincent's was known as uniquely midwife-friendly.
Its loss is especially painful as it follows the demise of Bellevue Birth
Center, which until its recent closing was the only low-income natural
birthing center in New York.
While the closing of St. Vincent's will undoubtedly place extra demands
on neighboring hospitals, it does offer some opportunity as well. A ready
supply of trained hospital staff in need of jobs may offset some of the
burden of increasing staffing that those other New York hospitals now face.