NEW YORK — April 24, 2010. On Saturday, 250 residents of Manhattan’s Lower West Side marched to St. Vincent’s Hospital to demand that the collapsing caregiver be replaced with a facility that provides emergency room services — not the “urgi-center” proposed by health care organizations competing for a state contract. The march and rally was marked by ambivalence: while some protesters chanted, “Save Saint Vincent’s,” others carried signs demanding that the hospital be replaced by a full service emergency room. The ambivalence was understandable — and palpable. There is a human cost when a hospital is laid to rest. Community members are stunned and struggling to respond to the crisis.
SERVING THE POOR, FILING FOR BANKRUPTCY
St. Vincent’s is a full service Catholic hospital — the last of its kind in New York. It was created in 1849 to serve the poor and for 160 years it has cared for its West Village community. But recently, mounting financial losses proved insurmountable and St. Vinnys, as it is known locally, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 14. The hospital has announced plans to shut down operations on April 30. Over 1000 employees have already been fired and more layoffs are looming. Recently, corporate media have broadcast images of staff members in tears as they struggle to accept the end of their employment and the demise of their hospital.
In an effort to preserve the institution, and the services it provides, a group called the West Side Neighborhood Alliance took up the issue.
Community organizers from WSNA, anticipating the immiment closure of their historic hospital, called for a march and rally for Saturday, April 24. Hundreds responded, assembling on Ninth Avenue near 25th Street.
A member of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance named Vivian told NLN that, “Emergency rooms all over the city are going to be totally overburdened and we’re going to have a lot of people in trouble. We need services for this town, there’s a lot of people here. Saint Vincent’s is gone but we need a hospital with an emergency room, if nothing else.”
URGI V. EMERGENCY SERVICES
Community members are skeptical about replacing an E.R. with an urgi-center and worry they will be left without proper health care. Politicians, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, have responded by advocating for a full service facility. Quinn spoke at the march, urging the crowd to continue the fight to get an emergency room.
Protesters heckled Quinn yelling, “Where’s Bloomberg?” and, “You’re selling us out, Christine!”
Quinn responded, saying that “No one sold anybody out” and urging the crowd to “Stay angry and stay focused” on the goal of getting an E.R.
Event organizer Lucas Shapiro asked the crowd to form up and the march stepped off at about 1:30 p.m.
THE “MARCH FOR OUR LIVES”
Carrying a wooden coffin and signs reading “No E.R. = DOA” and “Where will we go in an emergency?” hundreds of community members — including the elderly, people in wheelchairs, toddlers in strollers and several children on bicycles watched over by their parents — made their way south to 7th Avenue and 12th Street. Television crews filmed as the marchers filled protest pens, chanting “Save our hospital.”
St. Vincent’s employees, some wearing white lab coats, stood on the sidewalk outside the hospital, looking on. They waved at the marchers from across 7th Avenue as Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer told the crowd that the community needs a full service facility, “Not a glorified health clinic.”
Standing in the shade, watching the rally, was an elderly woman holding a hand-written sign. It said, “The E.R. at St. Vincent’s Hospital saved my daughter’s life. Thank you to the great staff.”
Todd Eaton contributed reporting to this article.