Michael Stoler — Wings of angels

St. Vincent's aside, big philanthropy keeps health care construction alive
By Michael Stoler | June 01, 2010 07:00PM

The closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village dominated news about health care in recent weeks, as a beloved neighborhood institution succumbed to financial troubles. But other evidence suggests that, thanks to some major gifts to the health care industry, St. Vincent’s may be an isolated case.

Several examples show that, despite the credit crunch, New York-area hospitals are finding ways to fund major expansion projects. Through the support of philanthropists, often from the real estate sector, there’s funding to build the latest state-of-the-art health care institutions, keeping New York a world leader in health care.

This spring, the North Shore-LIJ Health System announced that the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation had pledged $50 million for pediatric care provided in New Hyde Park and Manhasset on Long Island. Steven Cohen is a billionaire hedge fund investor and founder of SAC Capital Partners. The pediatric hospital was formerly known as the Schneider Children’s Hospital in honor of real estate leader Irving Schneider and his wife, Helen.

The pledge enables North Shore-LIJ to move ahead with plans to construct a 100,000-square-foot pavilion, a nearly $120 million project that had been on hold since 2008 because of the economic downturn.

Other previously announced projects are also moving forward despite the downturn. In April, the NYU Langone Medical Center honored Helen Kimmel, a longtime board trustee and supporter of the medical center. At the dinner, Robert Grossman, dean and CEO of the medical center, acknowledged a generous $150 million gift from Kimmel to build a new clinical pavilion.

The $150 million gift was first announced in November 2008, in honor of Kimmel and her late husband, Martin Kimmel, the cofounder of the Kimco real estate investment trust. Construction of the Kimmel Pavilion is planned to start in 2013.

Last month, James Tisch and his wife, Merryl, were granted honorary doctorates at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine commencement ceremony. The thank-you to James Tisch, CEO of Loews Corporation and chair of the Campaign for Mount Sinai, and his wife, commemorates a $40 million gift that established the Tisch Cancer Institute. Comprising nearly half a million square feet in the medical center’s new research building, the center is expected to be completed in 2011.

Mount Sinai has also received a $37 million grant from the charitable trust established by the late Leona and Harry Helmsley, leading to a new center for electrophysiology and an inflammatory bowel disease center.

And last month, the Weill Cornell Medical Center was scheduled to celebrate a groundbreaking at its new 480,000-square-foot Medical Research Building On East 69th Street between York and First avenues. Last year, Cornell had announced that former Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill donated $170 million toward the construction of the new medical research building. Weill’s donation, which is his fourth gift of at least $100 million to Cornell, serves as an advance of the $250 million he had originally planned to give after his death.

Weill and his wife, Joan, currently hold the record for the largest single donation to Cornell, for his 2007 gift of $300 million. It is estimated that they have given over $720 million since 1998.

And this spring, thanks to a $30 million gift from the Louis Feil Charitable Lead Annuity Trust, the Weill Cornell Medical Center laboratory research building on East 61st Street was named the Gertrude and Louis Feil Family Research Building, in honor of the parents of board of overseers member and real estate leader Jeffrey Feil and his sister, Carole Feil.

Also contributing to Weill Cornell and its sister institution, New York Presbyterian Hospital, was Ronald Stanton, chairman and CEO of Transammonia, who last year pledged $50 million for cancer care programs at the two health care centers. A clinical cancer program was established to help New York Presbyterian get new equipment and build a new center for blood infusions.

Exceptions aside, the people who have shaped the world of real estate have also been the benefactors of major health care expansion. And as the chairman of the board of New York Hospital Queens, George Heinrich, said to me, “Without major philanthropy, few new buildings and facilities would be built.”