Tuesday, April 22, 2008

St. Vincent’s Hospital Faces Opposition to Redevelopment

St. Vincent’s Hospital Faces Opposition to Redevelopment
By Roland Zemla

Colin Sullivan / Staff Photographer
Engulfed in a battle on multiple fronts with residents of Greenwich Village and city officials over its proposed redevelopment, St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center has recently become the focus of public speculation over the sustainability of its trauma center and emergency department. A closure of St. Vincent’s trauma center would increase volume at Morningside Heights’ St. Luke’s Hospital Center, which has the only other center on the west side.

But officials from St. Luke’s expressed doubt about the criticism of St. Vincent’s, and indeed highlighted the growth potential of the latter’s emergency department.

“A complete hospital closure at St. Vincent’s is highly unlikely, and it appears that St. Vincent’s emergency department may actually be gaining strength,” said Dr. David H. Newman, director of clinical research at St. Luke’s emergency department.

Flooded by a strong base of community activists who oppose the destruction of nine hospital buildings in the historic district of Greenwich Village, St. Vincent’s is poised for a long battle with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, City Planning Commission, and New York City Council if it is to revamp its congested hospital under the proposed redevelopment plan.

Under that plan, St. Vincent’s hopes to “demolish nine buildings, build a 329 foot tower for St. Vincent’s Hospital proper, and a 21-story condo tower, as well as another residential building and 19 ‘townhouses’ between 11th and 12th Streets between 6th and 7th Avenues,” the New York Observer wrote on April 1.

After emerging from a two-year bankruptcy last year, the current deliberations represent yet another hurdle St. Vincent’s must face in order to take control of the funds that it will gain from selling part of its buildings—worth $301 million­—to Rudin Management Company. These funds would be used to defray the costs of construction and debt that the hospital has accumulated over the years.

St. Luke’s and St. Vincent’s are the only two level I trauma centers on the west side of Manhattan, and there are only five borough-wide. Only patients who demand the highest level of care are transported to these facilities, which employ highly qualified surgical teams capable of treating the most serious injuries, ranging from severely fractured limbs to gunshot wounds and stabbings.

According to Dr. Dan E. Wiener, chairman of emergency medicine at St. Luke’s, a temporary shutdown of St. Vincent’s would not have a great impact on St. Luke’s.

“I would expect we would get a little [more patients], but I would not expect a huge increase in our trauma volume if they were to close,” Wiener said, adding that “Bellevue [Hospital, located on First Avenue at E. 27th Street] would probably feel it much more than we would. It would cause a minor impact—we could absorb it.”

“St. Luke’s is a high-volume emergency department that sees more than 100,000 patients per year,” Newman said. “Therefore the hospital and the ED [emergency department] are well prepared to handle an increase in trauma or non-trauma visits should this occur.”

These assurances come at a time when many New York emergency rooms and trauma centers are suffering from overcrowding and struggling to sustain operational budgets. But Newman stressed that constructing more trauma centers to mitigate the crunch associated with potential hospital and trauma center closures would not be of much benefit.

“Trauma is a disease like any other,” Newman said. “Expertise [in its treatment] is developed over years as a result of high volume exposure and experience in institutions that specialize in such management. Increasing the number of centers that handle diseases such as trauma is often associated with a diminishing level of experience, and a resultant decline in the ability to provide high level expert care.”

The St. Vincent’s administration remains optimistic that it will reach a settlement with the community and have the new hospital fully functioning by late 2015.

According to Michael Fagan, vice president of public affairs at St. Vincent’s, normal hospital operations will be unaffected between now and 2015.

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