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Best option for St. Vincent’s

Best option for St. Vincent’s

Crain’s New York 3/27/2011

Rudin plan gives Village the health care it needs

In the coming days, West Siders and their elected officials will get a detailed look at a proposed new health care facility and residential development where St. Vincent’s Hospital once operated.

If they cling to their emotional attachment to the old, full-service hospital and Level I trauma center, they will be disappointed. If they take a pragmatic view, they will be more than satisfied.

Let’s start with the reality: No one is going to replicate the old St. Vincent’s. A group being advised by former City Councilman Alan Gerson is trying to create something close to it, but finding financing would be difficult, if not impossible. And even if the money could be raised, the state Department of Health would not necessarily license the hospital. The state has been trying to reduce the oversupply of hospital beds to bring fiscal stability to health care, and a reincarnation of St. Vincent’s would only drag the system closer to the abyss.

A year after the closure of the hospital, which was losing $5 million to $10 million every month, the Rudin family has revived major elements of its earlier deal with bankrupt St. Vincent’s. The Rudins would pay $260 million for the eight former hospital buildings and various parcels of land around West 12th Street and Seventh Avenue. They would build 300 condominium units and five townhouses and transfer the landmarked O’Toole Building to the North Shore-LIJ Health System.

North Shore-LIJ—run by Michael Dowling, one of the most talented and straight-talking hospital administrators around—would develop a $110 million health care center anchored by an emergency department as advanced as any community hospital’s. It would be the first freestanding, around-the-clock emergency department in the metropolitan area. Operating under the license of Lenox Hill Hospital, it would provide about 95% of the services that St. Vincent’s ER did, including treatment of cardiac emergencies. Patients requiring surgery would be stabilized and transferred to another facility.

It would not be a hospital—there would be no beds—nor would it be a trauma center, which would serve less than one patient per day and require breathtakingly expensive infrastructure. The entire project would create 1,000 construction jobs and 400 health care jobs. That’s a far cry from the 4,000 jobs that St. Vincent’s supported (or tried to), but more than the zero jobs that would result from rejection of the plan. More important, it would be an asset to the larger health care system, not another financial albatross.

We have been down this road before. A few years ago, the community fought a plan from the Rudins and St. Vincent’s that might have saved the hospital. Some locals might be sobered enough by that experience to support the new proposal, but the hospital-or-bust crowd will no doubt be louder.

It is crucial, then, for politicians to judge the arguments on their viability, not their volume. Any project will need their help to get the required zoning change, Landmarks Preservation Commission approval and state certification. We believe the streamlined facility proposed by LIJ will emerge as the only option.