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Historic Manhattan hospital shuts doors

By Madison Park, CNN
Tiles pay tribute to September 11 victims outside St. Vincent's Hospital, the closest hospital to the World Trade Center.
Tiles pay tribute to September 11 victims outside St. Vincent's Hospital, the closest hospital to the World Trade Center.
  • Financial woes close St. Vincent's Hospital
  • Historic hospital treated patients from sinking of Titanic, September 11 attacks
  • Sisters of Charity started hospital in 1849 in response to cholera epidemic

(CNN) -- After 161 years of treating survivors of major catastrophes, from the sinking of the Titanic to the attacks of September 11, and leading early HIV treatments, New York's St. Vincent's Hospital closed Friday.

Faced with financial troubles and mounting debts, the historic hospital was forced to shutter its operations. By Friday, no patients were left, and about 3,500 employees were laid off.

There were a few community rallies to keep the private nonprofit hospital open, but the efforts did not succeed. There were no protests outside the hospital Friday, according to police.

Saddled by financial woes, the Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers board of directors voted to close the hospital this month.

"It is a combination of a large legacy debt that we had, the worst recession since the Great Depression and a very challenging health care environment," said Michael Fagan, Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers' vice president for public affairs.

The debt was a result of reorganization efforts in 2005-07, he added. There were other factors, too.

"In New York state, there have been eight rounds of cuts to Medicaid," Fagan said. "And we were a standalone hospital, and so we didn't have the leverage with managed care companies. Therefore we had lower managed care rates than you would when you're aligned with larger academic medical centers."

Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers filed a Chapter 11 petition for bankruptcy this week.

The hospital had been sponsored by the Sisters of Charity, a Catholic order whose ministry seeks to help the needy, and the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, Fagan said.

Located in Greenwich Village, St. Vincent's Hospital provided charity cases and care to the uninsured, handling about $40 million worth of uncompensated care last year.

The hospital's closure brought an eerie silence in Julio Ortiz-Teissonniere's neighborhood.

View Ortiz-Teissonniere's iReport

"We don't hear ambulances any more," said the Chelsea resident, who lives four blocks from the hospital. "They started rerouting them or something. It's kind of weird. You grow used to the sound of the ambulance, even though it's noisy. It's security."

"It's a personal thing for a lot of people," iReport contributor Julio Ortiz-Teissonniere said of the hospital.
"It's a personal thing for a lot of people," iReport contributor Julio Ortiz-Teissonniere said of the hospital.

Ortiz-Teissonniere, 53, an iReport contributor, said the hospital saved his life twice: in 2001 after a heart attack and in January after he became unconscious from low blood sugar.

"It keeps me wondering, " he said, "if they wouldn't have been that close, it could've been a different ending."


The hospital was rooted in the community, he said.

One nurse who was born at the hospital lamented the closure.

"St. Vincent's is my home, and the people I work with are my family, and it's been taken away from me now," Nancy McGuire, an emergency room nurse for 39 years, told CNN affiliate WABC-TV New York.

A private Mass and lunch were held for the employees in the afternoon.

"It's a very sad, difficult day for our employees," Fagan said. "They're really dedicated."

The Sisters of Charity started the hospital in 1849 in a small rental house with 30 beds, in response to a cholera epidemic.

It served the poor, immigrants and victims in major disasters such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, in which 146 garment workers died, and epidemics including HIV/AIDS.

Four days after the Titanic sank in April 1912, the ship's only survivors arrived in New York aboard another liner, the Carpathia. The injured were taken to St. Vincent's, The New York Times reported.

In the early 1980s, when uncertainty about the disease fueled fear and panic, the hospital treated HIV patients even though they had been turned away from other clinics. Its Comprehensive HIV Center opened in 1988; that clinic is expected to operate as usual.

"Outpatient services are still open, but we are seeking to transfer them to new sponsors," Fagan said. These include St. Vincent's nursing home and long-term care program.

The hospital referred patients to a number of neighboring hospitals.

St. Vincent's is to be turned into an urgent care facility run by Lenox Hill Hospital, according to WABC.

The hospital held a lot of personal meaning for people in the neighborhood, Ortiz-Teissonniere said.

He recalled seeing rows of stretchers outside on September 11, 2001.

"Right in front of St. Vincent's, doctors and nurses were waiting outside the hospital. I remember them waiting," he recalled.

People also posted photos of their missing relatives and loved ones on a wall outside the hospital.

"That's an example of how important to the city's history [the hospital] was," Ortiz-Teissonniere said.

"The only thing I can think of is, how come there is a bailout for financial companies, but no one can come up with a plan to save this hospital? That's what I thought about. How come?"