Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Did St. Vincent's Hospital in NYC engineer its own bankruptcy for the sake of a real-estate killing? (Caution: It's the NY Post asking)


Plus: How I spent the earthquake

NY Post caption: St. Vincent's officials allegedly ran the now-defunct hospital's finances into the ground in order win approval to sell it off [sic].

"DA investigators are examining sky-high payments to top executives and private consultants at the hopsital . . . said multiple sources familiar with the probe. Former CEO Henry Amoroso . . . oversaw the runaway spending, which led to $1 billion in debt and bankruptcy before the hospital closed in April 2010. . . . Going broke allowed the hospital to get an OK from the state Health Department to sell to the Rudin family, which is building luxury housing on the site. Without bankruptcy, state officials would not have been permitted [sic] the hospital to shut down, the sources said."
-- from "DA eyes St. Vinny's 'go-for-broke' plan"
by Brad Hamilton, in yesterday's
New York Post

by Ken

This is why you have to pay attention to sourcing. I was intrigued by this story when I stumbled across it yesterday on the handy daily local news digest site DNAinfo.com, and today I see it's been picked up by a number of sites -- now including this one. But I also note that, as far as I can tell, all reports trace back to a single source: an "exclusive" (possibly too exclusive?) report by Brad Hamilton in (ugh) yesterday's New York Post.

For example, Becker's Hospital Review's report is based on "a NY1 News report," but the report in question by the New York cable news channel was attributed entirely to . . . the New York Post! Meaning that without some kind of corroboration, it's just stuff somebody's saying.

Still, it's tantalizing. It's hard to explain to people who don't know the area -- which is to say the lower portion of Manhattan -- how hard it was hit by the closing, after a period of protracted financial woe, of St. Vincent's Hospital, smack in the heart of Greenwich Village, in April 2010. And there's no doubt that this is extraordinarily valuable real estate that the erstwhile hospital was sucking up for no better person than, well, to serve the health care needs of the community. To heck with that!

For the record, various interested parties at least went through the motions of trying to find ways to keep the facility open as a hospital. But also for the record, the sale to the Rudin family ("whose real estate holdings are estimated at more than 10 million square feet in New York," according to the exceedingly developer-friendly New York Sun) was rammed through pretty aggressively. In April of this year Anemona Hartocollis reported in the NYT:
A plan to build a luxury housing development and an emergency medical center in Greenwich Village came a step closer to reality on Thursday as a federal bankruptcy judge approved the sale of the bankrupt St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan campus.

The judge, Cecelia G. Morris, approved the $260 million sale to the Rudin development family and the North Shore-Long Island Jewish hospital system despite vociferous opposition from a small group of community activists who have been arguing for the creation of a new full-service hospital on the site where St. Vincent’s had operated for more than 160 years.

One opponent, Alan J. Gerson, a former city councilman who lives in the area, asked for more time to present a rival buyer, but the judge declined.

The sale was unanimously supported by St. Vincent’s creditors, including GE Capital, who are owed about $1 billion, according to Kenneth Eckstein, the lead lawyer for St. Vincent’s. . . .

All of that said, what the Post's Brad Hamilton reported is, as I said, tantalizing, and he at least claims to have multiple apparently unnamable sources, and unnamable sources do sometimes have legitimate reasons for their unnamability. Hamilton found one person who allowed himself to be quoted, and by name -- before we return to unnamed "sources."
"This was a well-thought-out plan," said Tom Shanahan, a lawyer for a group of former St. Vincent doctors and nurses suing St. Vincent's. "They wanted out and had to justify it to the state. They were running it into the ground."

DA Cy Vance's team is looking into whether vendors double-billed for services, gave kickbacks for contracts and hired relatives of hospital employees, sources said.

Two senior administrators each got more than $1 million after leaving their jobs -- and continued to be listed as employees on tax returns.

Virginia Sweeney, the top nursing officer whose employment ended in 2006, got paid $1.3 million between 2007 and 2009. Jane Connorton, the president who left in 2004, pocketed $1 million over the next four years.

Hamilton reported that former St. Vincent's CEO Amoroso and vice chairman Jane Iannucelli "did not return calls for comment." DNAinfo.com's Liddy reported, "The DA's office did not immediately respond to an email for comment." And both the Post and DNAinfo.com were told by St. Vincent's spokeswoman that the hospital is not aware of an investigation.

Now of course it could just be that St. Vincent's was run with normal-range fiscal ineptitude and chicanery that fall within the range of standard operating practice, which under recent hospital-unfriendly financial circumstances made the operation unsustainable, and seeing the end in sight, the overseeing rats stuffed their pockets with moolah before jumping ship.

Or it could be that something a lot more dastardly went, possibly even drawing attention now from the Manhattan D.A.'s office. Since it's the fraud unit reportedly involved, it's presumably not related to the crackerjack team that masterminded the DSK, er, prosecution.


Rupert M., do you see why it can sometimes be a disadvantage for a "news" organization to develop a reputation for propagandizing and making up stuff in its so-called reporting? It makes it kind of hard for folks with a grain of sense to take anything you "report" at face value -- even if we can assume that no phones were hacked in the reporting of the story.


"It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

So I guess it was a little before 2 this afternoon. Hey, if I'd known it was going to be history, I'd have checked the time -- I just thought it was, well, I didn't know what the heck it was, but I considered and dismissed "earthquake" as a possibility. We don't normally have earthquakes on the 14th floor of my building in the Financial District (Lower Manhattan) of New York.

So like I said, it must have been a little before 2, and I was at my desk in my cubicle on the 14th floor of a pretty sturdily built building (at least in the 2½ years my company has been here, the building has never moved that I'm aware of), and for a while the floor and everything kind of trembled, and after awhile people sort of looked at one or another, and somebody mentioned that there had been a 5.8 earthquake in Washington. Only I didn't make out exactly what that person said; I reconstructed it later after I found out that there had been a 5.8 earthquake centered in northern Virginia, which was also reported as 5.9 or even 6.0 Online somebody joked that S&P had upgraded the earthquake from 5.8 to 6.0.

Then we were hustled into the conference room to hear our HR director, who happened to be in California (as it happens, our office manager was also out of the office -- coincidence?), via conference call tell us to do whatever we felt necessary for our safety. She also warned us about taking precautions before getting on a subway, but somebody else reported that New York Transit was reporting no service delays. (And New York Transit wouldn't kid us now, would it?)

Me, I figured if an earthquake is coming to get me, I really wouldn't know where to go to escape its clutches. I figure you're just as likely to walk into it as to escape it. When I went back to working on the InDesign file I had been working on, the computer claimed that the file was damaged. I rebooted and tried reloading it, and while the program still voiced suspicion about the file being damaged, it then accepted and saved some small changes, and the asterisk went away. So far the file seems to be OK.

And that's how I spent the earthquake. We're not used to this sort of stuff here, but believe me, I take it seriously. It's not nice to fool Mother Nature.


Constitution Island, viewed from the West Point side

As I write, I'm getting read to leave the office for this evening's Hidden Harbor Tour of the "North" (i.e., Hudson) River waterfront, and then tomorrow I'm actually taking off work for my first look, courtesy of a tour offered jointly by SI 350 (a volunteer group promoting celebration of Staten Island's 350th birthday -- apparently someone thinks Staten Island is 350 years old; I wonder how Mother Nature feels about that) and the NYC Parks Dept., at the work-in-progress Freshkill Parks, built with huge infusions of technology, cash, and manpower on top of the old trash megadump.

The Parks Dept. has been offering tours, but I could never figure out from the website where I would have to get to, or therefore whether I could get there via public transit. This tour, however, is leaving from in front of the library in St. George, the part of Staten Island where the ferry lands -- and that I know how to find.

Then Saturday I'm actually venturing outside the five boroughs of NYC, well up the Hudson River to venture onto Constitution Island, which is opposite West Point on the west bank of the river, and is only open three weekends a summer. I'm expecting to meet up with a Shorewalkers group at the Metro North train station in Cold Spring, on the east side of the river from the island.

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