One of my many tens of loyal readers, born on the wrong continent, responded to the Palace Bat Signal I sent out yesterday and agreed to attend the Occupy St. Vincent’s event with me last night. “Let’s have a drink first,” I helpfully suggested. (I always helpfully suggest this.) We met up at the bar at one of my regular hangouts two blocks from the site of the old St. Vincent’s Hospital, and proceeded to fortify ourselves with Grey Goose vodka. Adam the bartender heartily approved of my sign.
When we arrived the site at 7th Avenue and 11th Street, it was already abuzz with activity. There were petitions to sign, a demonstration of the human microphone technique, friendly hellos and picture taking. Press mingled with the protesters. Someone asked us if we spoke Spanish. “Solamente un poquito,” I replied. “Enough to do an interview on a Spanish language station?” “Nooooooooo!” I said, “Lo siento.” Off she went into the crowd, searching.
I recognized familiar faces from prior protests and meetings I’ve attended in connection with the hospital. Tonight’s event was organized by Coalition for a New Village Hospital in conjunction with Occupy Wall St, and we were expecting marchers from Occupy Wall St to join shortly. The mood was an exhilarating mix of outrage at the state of U.S. health care and downright giddiness.
The Occupy Wall St marchers had already had a busy day. From their calendar:
Get Wall Street out of Healthcare!! March Against the
Health Insurance Industry
When Wed, October 26, 3pm – 7pm
Where Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park), NYC
3:00pm Sign Making in Liberty Plaza
4:00pm Open Speakout – come share your personal struggles with our healthcare system
4:30pm March Against the Health Insurance Industry/March Details:
4:30pm – Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield / One Liberty Plaza: located across the street from Zuccotti park, Empire is a subsidiary of WellPoint, the largest publicly-traded health insurance company. CEO Angela Braley’s overall compensation is $13.1 million dollars, enough to cover 1455 New Yorkers.
5:30pm – WellCare / 110 5th Ave: the for-profit company that administers Medicaid and Medicare Advantage programs in New York and other states. Currently being investigated for fraud with estimates that WellCare illegally siphoned $400 million to $600 million from state health insurance programs for the poor. (1)
6pm – St Vincent’s Community Hospital / 12th St & 7th Ave: closed earlier this year due to bankruptcy, St Vincent’s is a casualty of profit-driven insurers and a healthcare system that leaves 50 million Americans uninsured. There are now no hospitals on the westside below 57th st.
It was already close to 6:30 when an announcement was made that the Occupy Wall St marchers had been delayed and it would be another half-hour before they arrived. “Let’s have another drink,” I helpfully suggested. (I always helpfully suggest this.)
Mr. Born and I marched my sign to a BBQ joint on Greenwich Avenue. The host who greeted us was friendly and accommodating: he had been watching the activities across the street through the windows, and mentioned that business was way down ever since the hospital closed. Many area restaurants and shops had been shuttered, and others were just hanging on.
Mr. Born and I re-fortified ourselves with Grey Goose, and headed back to the protest.
One of the police officers manning the barricades asked those approaching whether they were part of the protest; if not, he would direct them around it. I held my sign up, smiled at him and said, “I’m with the protest.”
“I know you,” he replied, and he let me and my companion into the barricades.
“Wow,” whispered Mr. Born as we walked. “He knows you? That’s kind of creepy.”
The officer probably didn’t mean anything by it, other than that he recognized me or my sign from earlier. But yeah, for a moment there it did seem kind of creepy.
The Occupy Wall St protesters were arriving, and it was not long before the speakers began addressing the crowd. We heard from Eileen Dunn, a former nurse at St. Vincent’s for 25 years, former St. Vincent’s physician Dr. David Kaufmann, and the extraordinary Yetta Kurland, who is not only a relentless driving force behind The Coalition for a New Village Hospital, she also represents Occupy Wall St protesters as part of the volunteer National Lawyers Guild. (See her on Countdown with Keith Olbermann here and here.) The crowed played human microphone, with speeches punctuated by roaring, cheering and applause at particularly excellent soundbites. One theme, repeated over and over, is that our elected representatives are nowhere to be found.
Of course I had my trusty iPhone with me, which sometimes takes surprisingly decent pictures in low light. My shots turned out grainy and blurry, but somehow they capture the spirit of the evening.
We also heard from former patients and their loved ones whose lives were saved at St. Vincent’s, one of whom related that she had once run into the emergency room there carrying a child who was having a severe asthma attack. Had it taken only minutes longer to get care, the child would have died. That kid would die today of course, because the nearest hospital is over a mile away from the site of St. Vincent’s, across town on First Avenue. If you’ve ever driven from the far West side of Manhattan to the East side, you will be horrified at the implications of this. We are talking about the difference between life and death for children, seniors, tourists, workers, any of us.
Mr. Born had an absolutely brilliant idea for a video, and we fleshed it out over the course of the evening. The premise is simple: it goes something like this.
“Someone” has a heart attack. (The role of “Someone” will naturally be played by Mr. Born.) This occurs somewhere on the far West Side of the village during rush hour: the streets are choked with traffic, horns are blaring. “Someone Else” calls 911. (The role of “Someone Else” will naturally be played by Ms. Vander Pluym.) After an excruciatingly long wait, two EMTs finally arrive with a gurney and strap Mr. Born into it. There is no ambulance, however. What would be the point? The EMTs proceed to zig-zag their way around several city blocks, Mr. Born in tow, heading toward the subway station entrance directly across the street from the former site of St. Vincent’s hospital.
After struggling comically to pay their fares and getting the gurney through a turnstile, they rush through the long underground tunnel connecting to the 6th Avenue Station so they can get to the L train — the only train line that goes anywhere near the closest hospital at 1st Avenue and 15th Street.
Then they wait on the platform. And wait. And wait and wait. An L train finally arrives, and it is extremely crowded. The EMTs spring into action and ram the gurney onto the train. They silently ride the train three stops, exit at the 1st Avenue Station, and drag Mr. Born in the gurney up to the street. They rush frantically along the sidewalks, and finally arrive at the emergency room entrance at Beth Israel.
Mr. Born is DOA. Fade to black.
Fade in caption: We built hospitals in Baghdad and Bagram. PUT ONE HERE. [Cut to scene of shuttered St. Vincent's, with the subway entrance in the shot.] Fade to black. [Credits roll.]
After laughing ourselves silly, we pitched our awesome movie to some d00d named George who said he has a YouTube channel. He was filming the protest with an impressive looking video camera. (Impressive to me, anyway. I know jack about video cameras.) George thought it was funny. I gave him my card.
The speakers were winding down when I received a text from flyboy, another one of my many tens of loyal readers. It said, “I’m across 7th Ave watching,” followed by a picture of the protest from across the street. “Hey! Let’s all go have a drink!” I helpfully suggested. (I always helpfully suggest this.) We crossed the street to meet flyboy, and had an absolutely wonderful evening.
Occupy St. Vincent’s was inspiring, and great fun to boot. Who says changing the world can’t be fun? It is certainly not the Palace’s official position, that’s for sure.