St. Vincent’s Is the Lehman Brothers of Hospitals

New York Magazine | October 17 – Its demise was only the beginning. An alarming number of New York’s major medical institutions are teetering on the financial edge.

St. Vincent’s plight has been portrayed by public officials and the media as a story of local misfortune—a community losing a vital piece of its infrastructure and a centerpiece of its identity to a combination of mismanagement, the recession, and bad luck. The truth, though, is considerably more alarming. St. Vincent’s collapse is only the most visible symptom of an ongoing financial emergency facing the city’s five dozen remaining hospitals and threatening those they serve. In a sense, St. Vincent’s is the Lehman Brothers of the local hospital industry: an institution whose dramatic disappearance, once unthinkable, raises dire questions about the viability of the entire system.

The financial health of New York City’s hospitals has been deteriorating for years and appears to be nearing a critical juncture. Within weeks of St. Vincent’s demise, Lenox Hill, the boutique hospital of choice for Upper East Siders, long saddled with operating losses and debt, bowed to economic pressure and agreed to a takeover by North Shore–LIJ, the state’s largest private-hospital system. A month later, North General, for 30 years a pet project of Harlem’s political elite, announced that it was shutting down. That made seventeen hospital closings in the city since 2000. Last year, a pair of hospitals in Queens closed suddenly, just before the outbreak of H1N1, causing overflow conditions in the emergency rooms of nearby facilities, one of which set up a triage area on a loading dock. The year before, Brooklyn and Queens had each lost a hospital, and Manhattan had lost two.


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