BY Matthew Lysiak and Samuel Goldsmith
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Saturday, April 10th 2010, 3:10 PM
Pedestrians file past the emergency entrance at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York, which has closed due to a financial crisis.
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The steady stream of emergency room patients at St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan stopped Friday as the bankrupt institution prepared to close its doors for good.
“It’s a weird feeling. It’s so quiet. We knew this day was coming, but it’s still a shock to see an empty emergency room in the heart of New York City,” said Dr. Alex Chang, a surgeon at St. Vincent’s for four years.
Ambulances stopped taking patients to the West Village hospital at 10 a.m. Friday. Within an hour, the usually jammed emergency room was a ghost town.
“It feels like a death in a family,” Chang said. “It’s awful. Everyone is real upset.”
“A lot of the paramedics had tears in their eyes,” said Dominique Sicile, 49, a veteran nurse who spent 24 years at St. Vincent’s. “It’s a horrible day. Today is the end of an era.”
The board of St. Vincent’s voted this week to close inpatient services at the 160-year-old hospital because of a crippling $700 million debt.
Advocates had hoped for a last-minute deal with an outside company to keep the hospital open, but it never came.
The state is seeking proposals from private health care companies to take over urgent care at St. Vincent’s in the hope that at least the emergency room can be saved.
Insiders say two potential deals to keep the hospital open fell through because the companies – Mount Sinai Medical Center and Continuum Health Partners – couldn’t make it work financially when policymakers demanded they preserve inpatient services.
“The politicians weren’t exactly being helpful,” one insider said.
“Now they’re yelling about the hospital closing, but they weren’t willing to do what was necessary to keep it open months ago,” he said. “There’s a lot of disingenuousness going on.”
Continuum and Mount Sinai are back in contention to take over the emergency room, sources said. Sources say they soon will have the added benefit of bankruptcy protection, which protects them from St. Vincent’s debt.
Meanwhile, nearby hospitals had heavier-than-usual loads in emergency departments Friday. Last week, Bellevue Hospital saw a 13% jump in visits in recent weeks in anticipation of St. Vincent’s closure.
Now, they’re seeing double the number of patients in the emergency room.
“We’re worried,” said Dr. Christopher McStay, assistant director for emergency services, who said Bellevue expects 20,000 additional ambulance visits every year with St. Vincent’s closed.
“Losing St. Vincent’s leaves a gaping hole in the community,” he said. “St. Vincent’s was a safety net hospital, and now that that’s gone, what’s left?”
With Jill Colvin