Closing St. Vincent's: Who Will Feel the Effects?

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 liabilities.

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.
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