NEW YORK NURSE: May 2010
by Randi Hoffman
On April 19, 400 nurses were laid off from St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan – part of the more than 1,000 employees who have been let go as the bankrupt, 160 year-old hospital heads toward a scheduled closing on May 18.
“People are upset, but they were not surprised,” said Michael Cormier, LBU membership chair and cancer center nurse. “We kept people informed. Our membership was quite aware of what was going to happen. People came in to get their pink slips because they didn’t feel like waiting.”
Outpatient services including urgent care, the cancer treatment center, HIV/AIDS treatment, and the hospital’s nursing home are slated to stay open while the hospital board looks for other agencies to take them over.
Word of the closing first came on April 6, when the hospital’s board of directors determined the facility could no longer operate with a reported $1 billion debt and voted to shut the facility’s acute care, rehabilitation and behavioral health services units. Soon after, ambulances began diverting patients from St. Vincent’s, taking them to other nearby hospitals.
Two days later, more than 400 nurses, doctors, and community members rallied in front of the hospital in protest. Speakers included NYSNA Chief Executive Officer Tina Gerardi and Economic and General Welfare Program Director Lorraine Seidel, and the bargaining unit’s leaders who expressed their frustration over the decision to close and demanded that the leaders of the city’s other healthcare institutions step in and support a plan to maintain a full-service acute care facility for the area. Community residents spoke about how their lives had been saved at St. Vincent’s and how frightened they are not to have a neighborhood hospital.
Despite these combined efforts, the hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Manhattan Federal District Court on April 14 –its largest unsecured creditor being a federal pension insurance agency and the second a medical malpractice trust monitor. On April 16, the operating room staff reported to work, only to find the OR doors padlocked.
“We’re down to a skeleton staff,” said Eileen Dunn, LBU president, several days before the layoffs began. “The emergency room nurses are finding jobs at Beth Israel and Bellevue.”
For a brief time a business deal was being negotiated for Mt. Sinai Medical Center to take over St. Vincent’s, but this fell through. Mt. Sinai did not publically comment on why it withdrew the bid. Dunn blames back room political dealing for the reason the agreement was not finalized. “The deal with Mt. Sinai was practically signed, sealed and delivered, “said Dunn. “It’s alleged that it fell through for other than financial reasons. There’s a veil of secrecy around this whole thing.”
In an effort to continue fighting the closing, Dunn, along with NYSNA senior associate EGW directors Susanne Calvello and Barbara Conklin, were scheduled to meet with the staff of U.S. Sen. Kristin Gillibrand. As this edition went to press, a lawsuit was filed by supporters in State Supreme Court to stop the closing. It claims the closing violates state law because the plan wasn’t fully approved by the Health Department.
State Health Commissioner Richard Daines told the New York Daily News that he believed another institution will step forward and take over emergency services at St. Vincent’s. “We know there is interest,” he stated. “It’s an attractive neighborhood and location for a hospital . . . There’s money to be made there.”