Hoboken University Medical Center: Bad hospital deal is being rushed

Hoboken University Medical Center: Bad hospital deal is being rushed

August 4, 2011 By RENEE STEINHAGEN, executive director of New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Legal Center

Right now the residents of Hoboken are facing a stark reality: the pending sale of the Hoboken University Medical Center (HUMC) to buyers with a poor track record in protecting jobs, maintaining needed community services, and providing quality healthcare services. This rushed, backroom deal should be prevented before Hoboken loses an asset it cannot replace. Applicable state law is already on the books to block this sale and start this process again to ensure more community input and transparency.

New Jersey's Community Health Care Assets Protection Act (CHAPA) was enacted to codify the attorney general's oversight of charitable organizations to ensure that, in the event a nonprofit hospital is sold, the selection process is fair, free of conflicts, and the community is ensured quality healthcare services in the future.

The current sale of the Hoboken University Medical Center is not living up to the spirit of this law. We are seeing an absence of transparency, an unfair administrative process, and a lack of public input to assess how this sale will affect the residents of Hoboken and Hudson County. The attorney general's jurisdiction must be extended to protect this public health care asset.

To date, we've seen insufficiently informed community involvement, a City Council that has been blocked out of the review process, and a total lack of transparency from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's administration. Organizations like mine are unable to obtain relevant documents to evaluate the transaction. If we were able to review the lease with the Real Estate Investment Trust Fund (REIT), appendices and schedules of the asset purchase agreement and minutes of board discussions related to the decision to select the current buyer over other bidders maybe this public pushback wouldn't be necessary.

Because of HUMC's status as an independent agency under the Hoboken Municipal Hospital Authority, they are not subject to the Local Lands and Building Law when selling public property. This means community stakeholders aren't seeing what is really happening to the hospital responsible for serving their healthcare needs.

Mayor Zimmer should be working with all stakeholders, not hiding relevant information from their review.

Right now HUMC is an irreplaceable asset for Hoboken residents. Unfortunately, the record of the incoming buyers poses a threat to the affordability of hospital services in Hoboken. The residents of Bayonne are learning this lesson the hard way. The same group that is on the verge of purchasing HUMC is also the operator of the Bayonne Medical Center (BMC). They too sold the hospital to a REIT after purchasing it out of bankruptcy in 2008.

Their model is simple: maximize profit, charge excessive fees, and outsource services -- even if it sacrifices the quality of healthcare being provided. Work conditions at BMC worsened because of a drastic reduction of nursing and ancillary staff and an increased reliance on agency and per diem staff. In the end, all that has been accomplished is compromised healthcare services for Bayonne residents.

We can't let this same mistake happen in Hoboken.

I hope Attorney General Paula Dow and Governor Christie see the disdain for the public being displayed and use their offices to slow down this process and guarantee a fair and transparent sale of HUMC. Hoboken, Hudson County, and New Jersey residents deserve nothing less.

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