St. Vincent's Remembered

8.17.2010

By Out.com Editors

Walter Armstrong's moving oral history of the Catholic hospital that was ground zero for AIDS in the '80s. It may have closed its doors for good -- but the people who were there won't soon forget it.

St. Vincent’s Timeline

1849
• In the midst of a cholera epidemic, St. Vincent’s is founded by the Sisters of Charity, basically a poorhouse with 30 beds.

1861–65
• It provides care for veterans of the Civil War.

1912
• 106 survivors of the Titanic are taken from the Hudson River docks to St. Vincent’s.

1969
• The first gay demonstration at the hospital is a candle-light vigil as Diego Vinales, fatally injured fleeing police during the Stonewall riots, is taken there in a coma.

1981
• St. Vincent’s reports one of the nation’s first 10 AIDS diagnoses.
214 diagnoses, 214 deaths*

1984
• Spellman 7 -- “the old building” -- is converted to an AIDS Ward, the city’s first, with some 20 beds; it later expands to the seventh floor of the new building, Cronin, roughly doubling the number of available beds.
3,693 diagnoses, 1,973 deaths*

1985
• Community AIDS doctors smuggle experimental treatments into the U.S. and onto the ward for desperate patients.
• AIDS becomes the leading cause of death of men from New York in their 30s.
6,562 diagnoses, 3,797 deaths*

1987
• ACT UP is founded at the city’s gay community center, around the corner from St. Vincent’s.
• AZT, the first HIV drug, is approved. The dose, later viewed as toxic, was one capsule every four hours.
16,010 diagnoses, 9,859 deaths*

1988
• 22,447 diagnoses, 14,160 deaths*

1989
• Dr. Ramon “Gabriel” Torres is hired to head the HIV clinic. He aggressively pushes the hospital to conduct research, making it a leading site of clinical drug trials.

1992
• St. Vincent’s cancels its World AIDS Day observance because the educational materials to be handed out promote condoms.

1995
• In June, the AIDS ward records its highest number of patient deaths in a single month.
93,825 diagnoses, 62,734 deaths*

1996
• Protease inhibitors, a new class of HIV drug, are released, restoring health to many people with HIV and turning AIDS into a chronic, manageable disease.

1997
• The number of AIDS deaths declines nationwide for the first time; in New York City, the drop is 50%.
• AIDS patients begin to be integrated into the general hospital population and the dedicated AIDS wards are closed one by one.

1998
• The hospital’s refusal to approve a study of post-exposure prophylaxis following unsafe sex prompts Torres to leave. His 10-year legacy includes more than 40 clinical trials enrolling thousands of patients that earned the hospital hundreds of millions of dollars.

2000
• St. Vincent’s merges with seven other failing Catholic-run city hospitals.
127,834 diagnoses, 80,489 deaths*

2001
• On 9/11, as the trauma center closest to Ground Zero, the hospital treats more than 800 survivors, with AIDS ward nurses recruited to the ER for their “war-medicine” experience.

2005
• St. Vincent’s files for bankruptcy for the first time.
152,118 diagnoses, 92,627 deaths*

2008
• The hospital’s in-patient admissions fall by 10%, with only 14% from the West Village and Chelsea

2009
• The hospital announces that it is filing for bankruptcy, with a $1 billion debt.
• The Pope warns against condom use, stating that they “increase” the “problem with AIDS.”

2010
• After talks with six different city hospitals about possible partnerships founder, St. Vincent’s files for bankruptcy
• April 6: The board announces it will close the hospital.
• April 9: The ER stops accepting ambulances.
• April 15: The last baby is delivered.
• April 19: More than 1,000 staff are laid off; a gay man with AIDS and longtime St. Vincent’s patient is turned away from the ER.
• April 30: the ER locks its door, officially ending the hospital’s 161-year run.
• The HIV clinic, under the leadership of Dr. Tony Urbina, continues to operate, under the auspices of the Center for Comprehensive Care at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital.

*New York City cumulative statistics

To view a slide show of St. Vincent's, click here.

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