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St. Vincent’s prognosis may include new building

St. Vincent’s prognosis may include new building

The Villager 1/2/2007

By Albert Amateau

St. Vincent’s Hospital, the medical center serving the West Side for more than 150 years, has begun a dialogue with Village community leaders about plans for a major reorganization and modernization program.

“We’ve begun planning how we can serve the community for another 100 years,” said Guy Sansone, chief executive officer of St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers, at the Dec. 21 meeting of Community Board 2.

Hospital officials are talking to local elected officials and community board leaders before deciding on construction alternatives that could involve creating new facilities on one or more of several sites on hospital property at Seventh Ave. S. between 11th and 13th Sts.

“We’ve agreed to organize a working group to consult with St. Vincent’s,” said Maria Derr, Community Board 2 chairperson. The hospital’s location within the Greenwich Village Historic District will be an important issue for St. Vincent’s and the neighborhood, affecting the design and review of any plans, Derr said. How St. Vincent’s will manage to take care of patients during construction and the impact on residents and traffic will also be subjects facing the working group.

St. Vincent’s, whose main facility on the east side of Seventh Ave. at W. 11th St. was built in the late 1960s to replace the original 19th-century structure, includes a row of interconnected low-rise buildings running between Seventh and Sixth Aves. on the south side of W. 12th St.

The most obvious redevelopment site is on the west side of Seventh Ave. S., the four-story O’Toole building, acquired by St. Vincent’s more than 20 years ago for outpatient community healthcare. O’Toole, at 36 Seventh Ave. S., was built as headquarters for the National Maritime Union more than 30 years ago.

In response to questions at the community board meeting, Sansone said it was unlikely that construction would involve the W. 12th St. row because of the impact on residences and traffic. But selling some of those buildings after a new hospital facility begins operations is a possible option, Sansone said.

Another difficult alternative would be a floor-by-floor reconstruction of the 16-story building on the east side of Seventh Ave. at 11th St. where St. Vincent’s extremely busy emergency room is located on the ground floor. Such a course could take 10 years or more and cost almost as much as ground-up construction, according to Bernadette Kingham-Bez, St. Vincent’s senior vice president for communications and planning. A ground-up solution would take a little longer than two years.

St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers, which includes five other hospitals in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, has been hit hard by the soaring costs of healthcare and changes in medical technology.

In 2005 the centers filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal Bankruptcy Act.

“We intend to file a reorganization plan in the next 30 to 60 days,” said Sansone. The reorganization, developed over the past 15 months, will involve transferring two St. Vincent’s Centers hospitals to a Brooklyn-based health facility, while the Staten Island hospital will merge with a Bayonne, N.J., center. Under the reorganization, the St. Vincent’s system would have mental health facilities in Westchester and would operate a health plan for the families of military personnel. Through the difficult reorganization period, St. Vincent’s in Greenwich Village has managed to keep its affiliated doctors and serve 250,000 area residents, as well as 800,000 patients who live elsewhere, Sansone said.

“St. Vincent’s is poorly configured, with a maze of old buildings that haven’t been changed since 1979,” he said. “We want to be able to serve the community in the best way possible, and we expect to grow exponentially in the next decade.”

Sansone noted that the Berger Commission, which recently recommended closing several area hospitals, called for phasing out St. Vincent’s Midtown, the old St. Clare’s Hospital, on Ninth Ave. and 52nd St.

“That would bring several more beds to St. Vincent’s here,” Sansone observed. The W. 52nd St. facility’s emergency room, on the northern edge of the Theater District, has been serving 30,000 patients a year — some of whom will probably come to St. Vincent’s emergency room in the Village.

Sansone did not give an estimate of the cost of the redevelopment, but he acknowledged it would require an aggressive charity drive. He said the fact that St. Vincent’s would be the only Catholic hospital in Manhattan might help concentrate fundraising.