Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

St. Vincent's Hospital: what can be done?

 The grassroots movement to replace St. Vincent’s Hospital with a similar facility received a boost on October 17 at a rally in front of the hospital site at 7th Avenue and 12th Street. Speakers ranging from an 11-year-old P.S. 41 student whose brother’s life was saved by St. Vincent doctors to Lt. Dan Choi (who stood up to the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy) were on hand to lend their support to the cause.

Among them was Dr. David Kaufman, who served as an attending physician at St. Vs for over 30 years and as director of HIV clinical research. He reminded the assembled crowd that 340 inpatient beds, 22 operating rooms in full-time use, 23 clinics, 18 mental health sites and dozens homeless shelters and outreach programs can’t be shut down in under a month without any fallout. And that’s not even counting the over 60,000 emergency visits that the hospital’s ER logged annually. Dr. Kaufman’s rhetorical question to the powers that be was, “Where have all the patients gone?”
Dr. Kaufmans’s speech brought some much-needed hard numbers to the debate over St. Vincent’s, so WestView will be reprinting it in its November issue. When I spoke to Dr. Kaufman over the telephone, he told me that although he initially thought the cause of The Coalition for a New Village Hospital was a lost one (as apparently do all of our local and state politicians), or at least far-fetched, he’s been encouraged in recent days by the turnout at the rally (an estimated 500 to 1,000 people, depending on whose counting) and by “murmurings” he’s been hearing.

I didn’t feel encouraged after reading an excellent cover story in this week’s New York magazine, St. Vincent’s is the Lehman Brothers of Hospitals, in which writer Mark Levine placed St. Vincent’s closure amid a larger picture of New York hospitals as an outmoded economic model. The high cost of doing business in New York City, shrinking Medicaid and Medicare dollars, powerful private insurers who bully smaller hospitals into low reimbursement rates, and on and on...suffice it to say the story paints a depressing picture.

The even bigger problem for the West Village at the moment, however, is state health commissioner Richard Daines, who did not support a take-over bid by Mt. Sinai, and seems to be content to watch a Darwinian state healthcare scenario unfold to the detriment of the poor, the weak and the uninsured. As Dr. Kaufman put it, our best hope may lie in the power of the vote. “November second,” he told me. “The only way it’s going to change is if we get rid of Daines. Presumably a new governor will put someone different [in the health commissioner’s position.]”

Dr. Kaufman’s parting words were on the 17th were, “This is not a done deal. Maybe, just maybe, it is a new beginning. But it will take the relentless pressure and voice of our community. We need you to speak up, speak out, write, email, demonstrate and never give up.”
For a list of things you can do and politicians you can contact, go to the Coalition's Web Site, and scroll down to "Can't make it today? Here's what you can do."

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