On a solemn anniversary day during which the nation struggled to commemorate last September's tragedy, NYU Downtown Hospital reached inward and gave itself a much-needed hug.
In the 365 days since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the world has learned of the financially beleaguered hospital's Herculean effort to respond to the tragedy. In a way, the 149-bed hospital has become a symbol of the heart and verve of struggling community hospitals nationwide.
Although located in the badly victimized Wall Street neighborhood, which was choked off from the rest of the world, without water, electricity and telephone lines, NYU Downtown rushed to care and feed traumatized residents and office workers who fled there.
The hospital's staff has been tested in the past year by the global trauma and by the more ordinary challenges that affect many community hospitals, such as an accreditation survey and an ailing balance sheet, President and CEO Leonard Aubrey said. But also since last Sept. 11, 2,405 babies have been born at NYU Downtown. "Our promise to those children must be nothing less than the same commitment we showed the world on Sept. 11," Aubrey said today during a ceremony of remembrance.
NYU Downtown held the modest ceremony in its basement cafeteria, which was bedecked with a sample of the mountains of cards, letters and pictures sent by school children and hospitals throughout the country. A poster signed by the staff at 165-bed St. Michael Hospital, Oklahoma City, expressed the sentiments of many: "May God Grant You Hope & Healing," it said.
The ceremony included music, short speeches, and reminiscences and reflections from anyone wishing to participate, and a hospitalwide moment of silence shared with the city. "In many ways we were the lucky ones," said Howard Beaton, M.D., the hospital's chief of surgery and emergency services. "We were able to show the world that the "downtown" in NYU Downtown Hospital's name is more a state of mind."
Choking back tears, Joseph Morrone, former president of Southbridge Towers, recalled how NYU Downtown staff members were making door-to-door home visits within minutes of learning that the residential complex of 4,000 people -- 60% of them senior citizens -- was in dire straits as a result of the attack.
"Not many people know this story about NYU Downtown," Morrone said. "It was a hospital with a grand mission."
Elsewhere in New York, hospitals observed the anniversary with similarly quiet, introspective services. Saint Vincent Hospital, Manhattan, the closest trauma center to ground zero, held an outdoor Mass in the morning and an interdenominational service in the afternoon near the makeshift Wall of Remembrance that was constructed in the days after the tragedy.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Greater New York Hospital Association, which has coordinated the citywide hospital response since the first jetliner hit the World Trade Center, served in an honor guard at today's ceremonies at ground zero. "I've never been in a sadder place in my life," GNYHA President Kenneth Raske said.