Sunday, November 21, 2010

100 Days Without a Hospital

At first glance, you might think this is a local New York City story. But it's not.

It doesn't matter where you live. You've heard of St. Vincent's Hospital. Maybe you just don't remember it right now. In the history of New York City, St. Vincent's has stood tall through every crisis. It first opened in 1849 to treat victims of a cholera outbreak in a small brick house with 30 beds on West 13th Street. When the immigrant gangs of New York finished their skirmishes on the streets of the infamous Five Points, the subject of Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, they brought the wounded to St. Vincent’s. It was in St. Vincent's that the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire were treated. It was to St. Vincent's that the survivors of the Titanic were brought when they arrived in America. St. Vincent's was in the trenches during the city’s HIV/AIDS crisis, its beds were full of the sick and the dying. When the car bomb went off in the basement parking garage of the World Trade Center back in 1993, it was St. Vincent's that treated the injured. And we all remember watching the hospital's staff in their scrubs, standing in Seventh Avenue on September 11, waiting in vain for the survivors of the fallen Twin Towers who would never arrive for treatment.

From New York Magazine's story St. Vincent's Is the Lehman Brothers of Hospitals: "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."

Don't think the problem is confined to New York City. Hospitals across the country are having to do more with less and cost cutting is only providing temporary relief. As beds are cut to save money, overcrowding is getting worse. Fewer services will be offered. The experts are predicting a seemingly inescapable downward spiral in the quality of the care being offered. Our politicians are focused on medical insurance, but that's only one component of a looming health care crisis.

This video documents a rally that was held on the site of the now boarded up St. Vincent's Hospital. Watch it. Take notes. You may need to be organizing similar rallys in your city one day soon.

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