By Ben Fractenberg
CHELSEA — Borough President Scott Stringer lent his support to a coalition demanding a full-service medical facility at former St. Vincent’s Hospital during a packed community meeting in Chelsea Wednesday night.
Stringer said his office would provide resources for the West Village community that has gone without a hospital since St. Vincent’s closed last April.
"It is really amazing that we are not having the kind of outcry we need from elected officials to understand that as go our full-service hospitals goes our community and goes our city," said Stringer, who volunteered to share the expertise of his land use committee and his community affairs unit with proponents of a new hospital.
"I believe working with you we can get a better result," he said.
About a hundred people crammed into the Hudson Guild auditorium on 14th Street and Ninth Avenue to hear coalition leaders speak and to voice their own concerns.
"Since it’s been closed I’ve seen the pain and suffering of the community that doesn’t have their safety net," said Jane Karczynski, who worked as a nurse at the hospital for 28 years.
Douglas Esposit, 60, said he went to St. Vincent’s over the years for treatment.
"I know how important it is," said Esposit. "I can’t believe a hospital would close after 160 years."
Community members also expressed their concern during the meeting about the lack of transparency of the hospital’s bankruptcy process. They said they did not know who was bidding on the building and when it might change ownership.
"If find out tomorrow morning that they’ve already sold the hospital are we giving up? No!" said civil rights lawyer Yetta Kurland speaking rhetorically to the audience.
Someone in the crowd then yelled, "We’re sitting in," which Kurland repeated.
Kurland called on the city to use a portion of its $680 million hospital emergency fund, part of which was used to save Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, to resurrect a hospital on the St. Vincent's site.
"We’re happy Brooklyn Saved their hospital, right, but why doesn’t that happen here?"
Activists said they also wanted the city to make sure the facility is not rezoned to allow condos.
But more than zoning and money, speakers at the event kept coming back to how personal the issue is.
"My very best friend in the world spent her last days there," said Velma Hill, a leader in the local Democratic Party and a Chelsea resident. "I think about that and I think about her."
Community members vowed to fight on.
"This is not a sprint, this is a marathon," Kurland said. "We have to recognize we are in the middle, in an epicenter, of a health crisis on the lower side of Manhattan and we have not had the kind of response that we deserve to solve that crisis. So it is up to us to do that."