From 1849 to 2010, Saint Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center was an invaluable resource for the residents of Greenwich Village during countless crises. Reflecting the demands of the diverse and struggling populations of Greenwich Village, St. Vincent’s Hospital was dedicated to serving the poor and disenfranchised. First located on West 13th Street, the charity hospital was founded to address a cholera epidemic. By 1856, the hospital needed a larger space and moved to 11th Street and Seventh Avenue, where the flagship location remained until its bankruptcy and closure in 2010.
St. Vincent’s treated patients during various historic disasters including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the sinking of the Titanic, the bombing of Fraunces Tavern, the AIDS crisis, the Union Square subway crash of 1991, and the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Patients were treated regardless of their financial position, making St. Vincent’s an incredibly valuable resource to the surrounding communities. The hospital was one of the first in New York to provide ambulance services, beginning in 1870 with a horse-drawn carriage. In 1900, St. Vincent’s began using its first motorized ambulance.
St. Vincent’s was notable for its various outreach programs that served the community beyond the traditional emergency and medical services as well as many innovative medical programs. The hospital hosted a soup kitchen to feed the poor, and provided community programs for the homeless. More recently, the hospital provided pet-care services to patients, an example of the hospital’s mission to care for the community in various broad and deep ways. St. Vincent’s also opened a Chinese-speaking unit to better serve the Chinese community of nearby Chinatown which offered Chinese-focused services and treatments, as well as transportation. The hospital was dedicated to the idea that patient-care is not limited to basic or emergency medical treatment, but holistic community engagement.
St. Vincent’s Hospital was site of the first and largest AIDS center, providing intensive outreach, education and support services for AIDS patines and families at the “epicenter” of the epidemic. The hospital remains iconic in the telling of AIDS histories because of the sheer number of patients treated. Many people recall traumatic memories of the overwhelmed AIDS ward, where patients lay dying in the hallways, waiting for too few beds.
St. Vincent’s dedication to serving the most at-risk communities was an unprofitable mission. As the residents of the neighborhood shifted and became increasingly wealthy, many more affluent and insured locals chose to use other prestigious hospitals in Manhattan.
The location of St. Vincent’s is intended to be the site of the first AIDS memorial in New York City. While the memorial’s preliminary planning was begun in 2011, that part of site has yet to be developed, though controversial construction is underway for luxury condominiums.
The history of St. Vincent’s hospital is a useful lens through which to look at the traumas and trajectories of changes in Greenwich Village. Founded to serve one Village, it went bankrupt in another. The death of the hospital also points to complex changes in the American healthcare system and New York City. The hospital’s impact on 161 years of New Yorkers’ lives is undeniable. As one of the tens of thousands of babies born there, I feel its closure symbolizes the end of a particular New York.
“Remembering St. Vincent’s,” The New Yorker
“St. Vincent’s Remembered,” Out Magazine
“Where St. Vincent’s Once Stood,” The New York Times
“The Decline of St. Vincent’s Hospital,” The New York Times