At least three (three!) of my tens of loyal readers live in New York City; think of this post as the Palace Bat Signal to come to a rally today at 2pm at the site of the now-shuttered-and-soon-to-be-expensive-condos St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center.* The story of St. Vincent’s is in many respects the story of U.S. health care, and its future is bleak.
The details are complicated and the story is long and sordid, beginning in 1849 with a small Catholic charity hospital set up explicity to serve the poor, and ending one year ago today when St. Vincent’s emergency room finally closed for good. Briefly: in recent years, as charity care hospitals in the city shut down one after another, or were taken over and consolidated into for-profit systems, more and more uninsured patients were being dumped at the door of fewer and fewer charity care hospitals — which had to accept patients regardless of ability to pay — exacerbating the already deteriorating financial conditions of these hospitals until the only charity hospital left standing was St. Vincent’s. The hospital entered bankruptcy proceedings in 2005. Meanwhile, during the real-estate boom, developers had been attempting to purchase underused properties from the hospital in order to erect expensive residential towers. Local activists held the projects at bay for a while (although the Landmarks Commission eventually approved them). But then, for reasons that are as murky and mysterious as they are suspicious, St. Vincent’s somehow emerged from bankruptcy with its impossible debt obligations virtually intact. Continuum Health Partners and Mt. Sinai were both reportedly in negotiations to take over the hospital; both eventually declined to do so.
Fast-forward to today: Rudin, a developer that somehow scored a deal on all of the prime St. Vincent’s properties, is now promising to put some kind of “urgent care” facility on the site in order to appease the neighborhood activists, who believe, correctly in my view, that this is simply not enough. Thus, I am attending today’s rally, which if nothing else may give Rudin some idea of the constant headaches it will continue to face from locals in opposition to its plan to build luxury skyscrapers in this historic, low-rise neighborhood.
The ER staff at St. Vincents saved the life of someone I know who suffered a severe electrical burn. I have received excellent medical care myself from several physicians formerly associated with the hospital (and now associated with Continuum or other for-profit hospitals like Mt. Sinai).
By sheer coincidence I’m sure, yesterday the Palace received a big blue post card from Continuum Health Partners, the for-profit owner of the two nearest hospitals. The graphic shows two dialog bubbles: one says “Emergency?” and the other says “We’re closer than you think.” Below the graphic are the addresses of both Beth Israel Medical Center, at 16th Street between First & Second Avenues, and Roosevelt Hospital, at 59th Street between Ninth & Tenth Avenues. Take a look at a map of Manhattan sometime. Locate Perry Street (between 10th & 11th Streets on the far West side), and then find these hospitals. Now imagine yourself or someone you love experiencing a heart attack or a life-threatening injury at, say, 5:00pm on a Friday afternoon, and getting to either one of these hospitals in rush-hour gridlock. Think Continuum wants a full-service hospital here? Of course not. It would have made a decent offer to the bankruptcy court or built a hospital themselves here if it did. There is an enormous population of well-insured patients on the downtown West side of Manhattan: I’m sure you can do the math.
The United States is not broke. There are endless trillions always available for counterproductive wars, prisons, and a bloated National Security State, as well for “nation-building,” as long as the nation in question is not our own. Social Security is not in trouble. The Deficit, Debt, and Budget Horror Show we are all forced to witness these days is nothing more than the same game that’s been played for decades: the 1% of the wealthy and powerful shaking down the 99% of the rest, kicking the country further down the road to third-world nation status where the few have everything and the rest have next to nothing. Anyone who is actually serious about the deficit, debt or budget — or about health care — would be an unwavering, unrelenting advocate for a single-payer health care system: Medicare for all.
I hope to see you three loyal readers at the rally at 2; I may post pics later.
Oh, and FUCK YOU, CONSERVATIVES.
*I’m sure I don’t need to point out that although I am a sworn enemy of the Catholic Church, running a charity care hospital is a noble and laudable enterprise; even a hospital that does not provide sane reproductive health care is obviously better than no hospital at all.