I took a walk past St. Vincent’s Hospital the other day. It was surrounded by fences, boards, and warning signs pending demolition of some buildings and renovation of others. The place I used to go for coffee before making rounds is now a Duane Reade. I felt a bit sad, having worked there doing geriatric consultations, seeing wound care patients, and teaching students and residents for five years before its closing in April 2010.
I still find it astounding that this venerable 160 year old New York City institution collapsed. Even in its last days, we who saw patients there couldn’t believe it would happen. I was on the geriatric inpatient unit when we got word that all our elderly patients would be moved elsewhere, and watched as nurses cried. Some weeks later I saw the pandemonium in the hallways and panic in people's eyes as 3,000 hospital workers were laid off in one day.
There was a recent news item lauding the attorneys who “turned around” St. Vincent’s Hospital, providing 100% recovery for creditors during a bankruptcy proceeding. This article didn’t address the patients whose lives were disrupted or the nurses and doctors whose careers were derailed. There were about 1000 physicians, many in the middle of their postgraduate training.
Luckily since its closing I found a position with the Faculty Practice at Beth Israel Medical Center across town. Beth Israel also adopted the medical staff from the St. Vincent’s Geriatrics Division and its outpatient facility, so I have the pleasure and satisfaction of working with some of the same docs.
As I walked around the old neighborhood I notice many young people with children and strollers. I looked up at the empty windows which will soon accommodate million dollar views. These buildings will be transformed into high priced housing, like so much of New York City over the past decade.
St. Vincent’s Hospital offers rich memories for me. Those of us who worked there know what a great place this was, with a spirit of caring that is hard to find. Change is the one true constant in New York City, and this institution had suffered through years of financial troubles. It's closing was sad, but I am happy to look back on my memories and know that I lived a part of Manhattan history.
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