Saint Vincent’s Hospital in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood was an anchor for families and a healer of friends for over 160 years. On May 31, 2010, the hospital closed leaving 3,500 doctors, nurses and support staff unemployed and a jagged neighborhood wound that will never be healed.
The Board of Directors of Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers (Saint Vincent’s) reluctantly voted to authorize the closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan inpatient services including all acute, rehab, and behavioral health. The vote came after a six-month long effort to save the financially troubled institution, which has operated in the Village for over 160 years.
We can make the argument the hospital was mismanaged and blame the administrators for the closing.
We can rock the blame on the shoulders of a slumping economy.
There is more to the demise of St. Vincent’s than just a simple spreadsheet. St. Vincent’s, a hospital serving the immigrant poor and indigent, fell victim to gentrification and a tidal movement in a hippie neighborhood that now houses the moneyed elite instead of the artist flophouse.
It wasn’t acceptable to be treated at St. Vincent’s if you had money. St. Vincent’s was only for the poor or the fatal emergency like a car crash or the World Trade Center falling.
Elective surgery heads uptown. If you had money, and time to get there, you traveled to one of the society page “teaching hospitals” like Beth Israel or Lenox Hill for treatment because those brick boxes are more prestigious and socially proper for dinner party stories.
The exodus of Village residents to other hospitals is backed up by State Health Department data, which show that before the closing, the 11 nearest zip codes accounted for only 37 percent of St. Vincent’s patients. When the Titanic sank, Sister Kevin said, the Sisters of Charity wired the rescue ship, the Carpathia, that St. Vincent’s ambulances would be waiting at the dock, but would take only passengers from steerage. They knew, she said, that the rich passengers would be taken care of.
Today, Greenwich Village is an area good enough for the rich to reside — but it is not yet a fine enough place to be healed when you take ill — and so, after 160 years of thriving and brightening up the funky lives of the indigent and the starving artist, St. Vincent’s now doubles down in death and crumbles into a grave not of its own making.
When we actively choose to make a hospital a headstone against our better interests, we better be secure knowing the weight we are binding to our legs — for the inevitable drowning of our own selfishness — was once one the great anchors of an immigrant city.