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St. Vincent's Manhattan to Close?

Nurses protest Continuum Health Partners' proposal to acquire St Vincent's and transform it into an expanded outpatient center

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Nurses at St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan are battling to save their financially strapped hospital from being acquired by Continuum Health Partners.

On Jan. 28, hundreds of nurses from the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) protested Continuum's proposal to acquire the 727-bed, acute-care hospital in Greenwich Village and turn it into an outpatient center.

Physicians, hospital workers and city officials joined the nurses swelling the crowd to approximately 400 participants.

In a Jan. 26 statement, Continuum said St. Vincent's parent company, Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, requested the proposal "as an alternative to financial liquidation. If St. Vincent's is able to continue to meet its mission on its own, they have our full support," it said.

The non-profit Continuum operates Beth Israel Medical Center, St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, Long Island College Hospital and the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary.

Emotional Ties

According to NYSNA, within 60 to 90 days after the acquisition, all acute care, surgical units and emergency services would be closed, leaving the Lower West Side of Manhattan without a hospital.

"Where would we be if the St. Vincent's emergency room had not been there for 9/11 and the airplane landing on the Hudson River?" asked Eileen Dunn, RN, a staff nurse at St. Vincent's and president of the NYSNA bargaining unit representing its nurses.

"St. Vincent's has served the community for 160 years, and can continue to serve the community through a reasonable restructuring plan," she said. "Shutting the doors is not the answer."

NURSES PROTEST CLOSING: Approximately 400 NYSNA nurses rallied outside St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan in Greenwich Village on Jan. 28 to protest the proposed acquisition of the hospital by Continuum Health Partners. courtesy New York State Nurses Association

City hospitals have suffered from low reimbursement rates, a high volume of poor patients and most recently, the recession, coupled with state healthcare cuts. St. Vincent's Midtown Hospital was closed in 2007 by the Berger Commission.

St. Vincent's Manhattan, which has labored financially for years, is $700 million in debt and hemorrhaging between $5 million and $10 million a month, according to a Jan. 26 New York Post article. Under the proposal, Continuum would acquire the hospital's debt and try to restructure it with support from the state and creditors.

According to a Jan. 26 report in The New York Times, Henry J. Amoroso, president/chief executive of Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, was in "serious discussion" with GE Capital and TD Bank, which hold $300 million in St. Vincent's debt between them, "about how best to restructure the burdensome debt that we were left with" when the hospital emerged from bankruptcy in 2007. The Post article indicated creditors support the Continuum plan.

The Times article said the Continuum proposal includes turning St. Vincent's Manhattan into a walk-in healthcare center, maintaining some emergency services, but no longer taking 911 ambulance calls. The hospital's Level I trauma center would be closed, but it would maintain St. Vincent's HIV and psychiatric services.

The acquisition would mean the loss of the city's last Catholic general hospital.

"This proposed takeover by Beth Israel [the largest of Continuum's hospitals] will devastate the community by closing the only acute-care facility on the Lower West Side of Manhattan," said John Hiltunen, RN, who works at St. Vincent's and is a member of NYSNA's board of directors.

Integral to Neighborhood

The hospital treats a high number of poor, homeless and uninsured patients.

"St. Vincent's is integral to the very fabric of the neighborhood and the city," said Lorraine Seidel, MA, RN, director of NYSNA's economic and general welfare program. "It is one of the cornerstones of Greenwich Village. It would be tragic to succumb to a plan which disregards the healthcare needs of this community."

The proposal only includes the hospital at West 12th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, not its nursing homes in the metro area, nor its psychiatric facilities in Westchester County.

Depending on how the deal is structured with Continuum, the healthcare system may assume St. Vincent's lucrative real estate, which could potentially be sold. St. Vincent's is in the midst of proposing a $1.6 billion redevelopment plan with the Rudin Organization. The plan is to build a new hospital on the west side of Seventh Avenue at West 12th Street, with residential development of its current buildings on the east side of the avenue to help pay for the new hospital.

ADVANCE for Nurses contacted St. Vincent's nursing leadership several times for this article. They declined to comment at this time.

Nursing leadership has struggled to help keep St. Vincent's on track and viable. It is using a rigorous performance management tool, for instance, to keep patients safe and satisfied and to support the financial health of the organization. (See "Navigating Success" in the Oct. 12, 2009 issue of ADVANCE.

The systemic process has reaped tangible results in potential savings, reduced RN vacancy rates to among the lowest in Manhattan and boosted patient satisfaction.

The possible sale - now resting in the hands of the board of directors to decide - is undoubtedly a bitter disappointment for the nurses who have tried valiantly to steer the hospital through shoals and keep it afloat. 

Kathleen A. Waton is a frequent contributor to ADVANCE.

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