By Yepoka Yeebo
EAST HARLEM — Staff and patients at North General Hospital expressed shock and anger Tuesday over news that the Harlem hospital would be closing its doors for good in July.
About 1,000 hospital staff were informed over the past few days that they would be laid off on July 2, a hospital spokesperson said. An unspecified number of workers will be kept on to staff a nursing care facility and an acute care clinic, which will replace the hospital.
"I found out on Monday," said Garnett Mercado, 37, who has worked as a groundskeeper at North General for 10 years. "At least at St. Vincent's, they gave them a time period."
Mercado was not the only person who raised the specter of Greenwich Village's St. Vincent's hospital, which closed its doors last month.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said the loss of both North General and St. Vincent's meant it was time to seriously look at the impact of hospital closures.
"There must be an assessment examining the impact these closures have on emergency response times and the capacity of neighboring hospitals to absorb additional patients," Stringer said in a statement.
Earlier this week, Gov. David Paterson brokered the deal to convert the hospital — which is in his old State Senate district — into a clinic and nursing facility. But the deal was no comfort to the laid-off staff.
"Friday I got a call from my union rep who said that by [next] Monday, I'll have no job," said Elizabeth Pacheco, who has worked at the hospital for 34 years.
Olga Castro, 57, who has an administrative position at the hospital, said that life at the hospital has been very hard this week.
"They're already taking measurements, they're moving things around, by next week, even the name won't be there," Castro said. "They've been unfair to the employees, they're stressing people out, there are people in there crying."
Patients were equally shocked by the news.
"This hospital saved me, I had uterine cancer," said Mary Christie Sis, an opera singer who pays the bills with a telemarketing job.
Sis, who has traveled from 38th and Madison to the East Harlem hospital for the last eight years, said she had tried many other hospitals in the area, but North General was her favorite.
"I meet so many wonderful people here," she said. "I'm alive because of these people."