Meadowlands Hospital Sale Draws Public Worries About Continuing Acute Care

The Record ( — Friday, August 27, 2010

The Record

More than a dozen speakers urged state health officials Thursday to keep Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus open as a full-service acute care hospital when it is purchased by a group of private investors.

"The proposed sale of Meadowlands is the poster child for all that could go wrong if we don't protect our services and you don't do your job," said Ev Liebman, director of organizing and advocacy for New Jersey Citizen Action, a watchdog group.

About 100 people, many of them hospital employees, attended the hearing held by the State Health Planning Board in Secaucus. The state is reviewing the $15 million sale of the hospital to MHA LLC, a private investment group, as required by law.

NJ Citizen Action canvassed Secaucus all week, collecting more than 1,200 signatures from residents eager to see all services maintained and the same staffing levels if the hospital is operated as a for-profit hospital, Liebman said.

Liebman and members of the union representing 400 employees also raised questions about the financing of the deal and the reported 43 percent return MHA is promising investors.

"We are concerned that without the proper protections, this transfer of the hospital license to MHA will diminish the quality of care we provide to our patients," testified Joann Dudsak, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees' local at Meadowlands.

"The complex structure of this company, their track record at other facilities and their unwillingness to commit [in writing] to maintain our hospital services and our current staff are all concerns," Dudsak said.

MHA executives did not speak at the hearing. Bill Maer, a spokesman for MHA, said the investors are "confident" all financing will be completed in the next few weeks. "We're very close to having this totally tied up," he said.

MHA has pledged to shore up finances at Meadowlands, which is losing about $700,000 monthly, according to Mark Rabson, a spokesman for LibertyHealth, the current owner.

Maer said the hospital will continue to operate as an acute care facility for at least seven years. The owners plan to return it to profitability and, if successful, will operate an acute care hospital "long into the future," Maer said.

The State Health Planning Board has 30 days to make a recommendation to Health Commissioner Poonam Alaigh. The commissioner has 60 days to then make a decision. The sale is also under review by the attorney general as required by law.

Secaucus resident Geraldine Natwin, a retiree, said she was so "panicked" about the hospital potentially closing that she went online to see the driving distances to other hospitals. The 18-minute drive to Hackensack University Medical Center or the 21-minute drive to Palisades General Hospital in North Bergen didn't seem realistic in traffic, she said.

"This is a really burning issue," she said. "We have many people here who need bread-and-butter care."

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