Lawsuit: Officials at NYC’s St. Vincent’s Hospital wasted millions with high salaries, golf

Monday, August 16, 2010

Former staff file suit against closed NY hospital

NEW YORK — The now-defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital was destroyed by mismanagement as it teetered at the edge of bankruptcy— including a $278,000 golf outing and more than $100 million in unspecified spending for just one year, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

Top executives at the debt-ridden, 160-year-old Greenwich Village institution earned $1 million each, while spending $17 million for management consultants, former hospital staffers and community members said in the suit filed in Manhattan state Supreme Court.

The city’s last Catholic-affiliated hospital filed for bankruptcy before closing in April, citing a debt topping $1 billion dollars. The number of beds had been reduced from 800 a decade ago to about 400 by the time it shut down.

“The closure of St. Vincent’s raises many questions,” attorney Yetta Kurland told a news conference in front of the courthouse. “This is not the way a hospital trying to save itself would be acting.”

Kurland filed the suit on behalf of about 1,000 former hospital workers, neighborhood residents — including herself — and one-time patients calling themselves The Coalition for a New Village Hospital. Named in the papers is the state Department of Health, which the plaintiffs say has failed to release documents related to the hospital’s administration and closure plans.

The department licenses hospitals, and St. Vincent’s has received hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars in recent years, Kurland said. In March, Gov. David Paterson secured a $6 million emergency loan so St. Vincent’s could make its payroll.

The state also issued a request for a proposal to create a smaller neighborhood clinic replacing the full-service hospital, while Mount Sinai Medical Center considered a takeover. The Manhattan hospital eventually withdrew, saying there were “too many financial obstacles to overcome.”

The financial and other paperwork would show whether health officials were right when they insisted they could do nothing to stop the closure because of financial woes, said Eilleen Dunn, a nurse who worked at St. Vincent’s for 25 years.

The coalition’s repeated requests for the documents have gone unanswered for months, members said.

“Dr. Daines, you must explain!” they shouted, referring to the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Richard Daines.

Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, the health care system anchored by St. Vincent’s, issued a statement Monday saying its officials had not yet seen the lawsuit.

“However, based upon news reports and press conferences, there appears to be a blatant distortion of the facts,” the statement read, adding that for about four months, administrators have focused on ensuring a smooth transition of health care services to other facilities as St. Vincent’s closes.

The system also noted that the state had approved the closure plan supervised by the federal bankruptcy court.

A call to the health department was not returned Monday. Henry Amoroso, St. Vincent’s most recent former president and chief executive officer, did not return calls by The Associated Press to his cell phone and New Jersey law office.

Included in the lawsuit is a Freedom of Information petition asking the court to order the state to release the documents. The coalition also wants a formal probe of St. Vincent’s finances and a public hearing on the issue.

“This is a sad, sad day for me,” said Dunn. “And I’m mad — that people lost a hospital and a trauma center.”

Without St. Vincent’s, Manhattan’s Lower West Side is left without top-level trauma care or a pediatric intensive care unit, Dunn said. The nearest level-one trauma center is at Bellevue Hospital Center on the East Side, about 1.5 miles away.

Supporters of the suit hoisted banners that read “No More Lies” and “We Need a Hospital.”

“If what we believe is true, St. Vincent’s could have been saved, sold or rescued,” said Tom Shanahan, the co-counsel in the case. “The public deserves better than to hear a hospital was ‘bankrupt’ under a crushing $1 billion debt, when it seems they had substantial public monies coming in and that the hospital was mismanaged.”

The next court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 8.

The figures used in the suit come from St. Vincent’s fiscal 2008 tax returns, which also show that as the hospital headed for bankruptcy, $3.8 million was spent on “professional fund-raising.” Another $104 million was marked for “other” unspecified expenses.

St. Vincent’s was founded by four Sisters of Charity in 1849 in a brownstone that first took in victims of a cholera epidemic, then served generations of poor immigrants.

On 9/11, the hospital treated more than 800 people injured in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

will not be displayed