St. Vincent’s Hospital closes, but who’s to blame?


by Marie Cooper

St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Greenwich Village was founded in 1849, making it the third oldest hospital in New York City. It has been an occasional scene of notoriety but mostly it has witnessed countless episodes of anonymous compassion and care. My two sons were born there. As a major teaching hospital, it has over 1000 affiliated physicians. It is where generations of New Yorkers have gone for legendary medical treatment.

St. Vincent’s will be closing its doors to inpatient services forever.

The facility has been in financial trouble for a long time. However, its board chose poorly in a quest for solutions. It was glacially slow in responding to a decline in third party reimbursements and an increase in Medicaid and Medicare patients. The crisis management organization they hired squandered millions and did little to turn around the problems. Their fiscal irresponsibility will now cost thousands of people their jobs and remove a primary source of healthcare for many more in the area.

Some will say St. Vincent’s was a victim of the times, of low reimbursement and poor patients with expensive, complicated conditions. But to me this demise of a world famous facility is an example of what I maintain is the biggest health care crisis we have in our country: tolerance of mediocrity.

Who was watching the board while the hospital was bleeding cash? Who was calling them to task when their hired hands were not showing any results but instead were costing more and more money? Why were other models of excellence in hospital management not consulted? Why was there not a hue and cry by physicians and the neighborhood when quality began to decline? Why was a renowned gem of a facility allowed to wane and, ultimately, expire?

St. Vincent’s should be a textbook example of what not to do when your hospital is failing. Don’t stick your head in the sand. Don’t leave it to the other guy, start yelling when you see the sky is falling. Don’t ignore successful facilities and how they got that way. Don’t hire consultants who subsequently rob you blind.

There are ways to turn things around. It takes a joint effort and an expectation of excellence, accepting nothing less. That is what saves hospitals.

With much luck, this obit will be premature and some multi-million dollar rabbit will be pulled out of a hat. Although it seems unlikely at this point.

Farewell St. Vincent’s. Thanks for everything.

Marie Cooper is a freelance writer and business consultant who blogs at Nourish.

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