But yesterday St. Vincent's could not save itself and closed down after 160 years of serving the poor and immigrants.
33 years ago I was a young investigative reporter doing a story for New York Magazine about how easy it was for non addicts to get on a private for-profit methadone program.
Armed with a good story, I, a non addict, had gotten an ID Card, in only one day, that allowed me to get as much methadone as any addict could possibly want for the rest of his natural life. I had seen the junkies selling their legally prescribed bottles of methadone on the streets, and even brought some to show how easy it was. They would use the money to buy heroin with the profits.
I told the profit making treatment center on Lafayette Street that I'd been an addict for two years. They said I'd have to undergo blood and urine tests which would tell them what kind, and how much drugs, I was taking. I gave the samples thinking that surely the jig would be up.
But they were so busy making money, they obviously never checked the samples, since I had never taken heroin or methadone in my life.
I never saw a doctor.
The first day went fine. I got my 50 mg. of methadone (junkies had warned me that this amount would certainly overdose me and might kill me.) and pretended to drink it while I secretly dumped it into the sink.
The next day they got suspicious, thinking that I might be selling my dose on the street. I took the liquid into my mouth, but they kept staring at me. I figured I was going to spit it out on the street. But as I started to leave, the nurse said "you have to say good bye"
I swallowed the 60 mg. of methadone, 10 mg. more than the previous day, smiled, said good bye and walked out. Incredibly they increased the dosage every day to make sure you have to come back.
I was in big trouble. I felt really stupid. I knew that that dose would certainly overdose me and I might die. I rushed to my car and grabbed a bottle of Ipecac. My pharmacist had assured me that two teaspoons would definitely make me vomit.
I drank the whole bottle, stuck my finger down my throat, bent over and waited for nature to take its course.
I couldn't vomit, I was too nervous and panicked.
I rushed over to St. Vincent's hospital, the closest in the neighborhood, ran into the emergency room and screamed like a madman. I didn't know how much time I had. "I have been poisoned. I need to have my stomach pumped right away or I will die."
Since I was in my best drug-addict- street-person attire, I told the nurse that I was foreman of a construction crew and that I had drunk one of my workman's weekend supply of methadone by accident, thinking it was orange soda.
Service was great. They were quick and professional. I don't know what would have happened if I had to go to a hosipital 15 minutes further away. tI might have been too late.
Medics soon put a plastic tube up through my nose and down to my stomach, and within seconds, relief. They squeezed a rubber ball at the end of the tube and the orange methadone started flowing out.
The theory of methadone maintenance is that you can cure hardcore addicts by giving them massive amounts of synthetic opiate - methadone. The theory is that after that they can't get high on heroin because they are so buzzed on methadone. You don't detoxify with methadone. You stay on it the rest of your life.
I, and other experts, didn't exactly buy it at the time and still don't which is why I was doing my undercover investigation. Street addicts consider methadone as another type of heroin. New York's Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Dominick DiMaio reported that methadone poisoning killed twice as many people (181) as heroin poisoning (91) in one year.
Politicians and the public supported methadone maintenance because they were convinced that if we give all those heroin addicts methadone, then they won't rob and steal from us. Today 40,000 addicts are on methadone maintenance in New York State alone.
Anyway St. Vincent's, New York City's last Catholic Hospital, a Greenwich Village institution that served the poor and immigrants for so long, was doomed when Greenwich Village got so wealthy. Rich people went to more prestigious academic institutions. 3,500 workers were laid off.
Funny how the government is so anxious to bail out the banks, when they can't help a hospital that serves the poor?
It was a great hospital, with good medical facilities, and most importantly close by when I needed them desperately.
Thanks for saving my life.
Rest in Peace