February 17, 2011

The fight for a new Village hospital marches on

Borough president Scott Stringer promises he'll listen to Coalition members
I’m glad to see some community members keeping the spotlight on the need for a new Level One Trauma Center now that St. Vincent’s Hospital is gone. At first considered a fringe group with little power, the Coalition for a New Village Hospital has picked up political support and a loyal cadre of followers. You know it’s gaining in momentum when it has its own establishment, centrist and fringe groups.

The 200 or so concerned Villagers who attended last night’s meeting included a group called Hands off St. Vincent’s that has pledged to employ the tactics of non-violent direct action in order to get its message across. The group’s latest act of civil disobedience took place on February 8, when four members were arrested after staging a mock trial of elected officials and sit-in in the lobby of the shuttered hospital. The group charged eight politicians, ranging from U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer to state health commissioner Richard Daines with negligence and complicity in allowing the closing of St. Vincent’s.
At last night’s packed community meeting, several of the politicians that Hands off St. Vincent’s called out as being complicit in the shut-down were hand. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, exhibiting a suitable sense of outrage, said the hospital’s board “ran it into the ground, and that still has to be investigated.” Also present were movement stalwarts Dr. David Kaufman, former director of HIV clinical research at St. Vincent’s; firebrand civil rights lawyer Thomas Shanahan, and former city council candidate Yetta Kurland.

Since the people that care about replacing the hospital are mostly middle-aged or older Village residents, there was a lot of shouting of “We can’t hear you!,” and “Use the mic!” It was a good bet that the few younger faces in the audience were either Hands off St. Vincent’s activists (they are an offshoot of an LGBT advocacy group) or members of the online media.

Shanahan created a witty presentation in the format of the “Jeopardy” game show in order to make the points that the process of developing the former hospital site lacks transparency and that no one really knows who controls land use on the corner of Seventh Avenue and W. 12th Street. He  and several other speakers referred to a recent health care survey that ranked our state 46th in the nation in average emergency room wait time. New York’s average clocked in at close to five hours.  

Less activist-minded Village residents shake their heads and say this is a lost cause. Yet when 340 beds, most of them catering to low-income and indigent patients, the only Level One trauma center on the West Side between South Ferry and 114th Street, and an ER that handled over 60,000 visits a year are suddenly eliminated and not replaced, it should matter to more people.