Jersey Journal

Sale Of Hospital To For-Profit Rankles Workers About Future

Workers question sale of hospital to for-profit management group

The Jersey Journal — Saturday, August 28, 2010

By MARK MAURER
JOURNAL STAFF WRITER

Apprehensive employees joined a small group of state representatives Thursday in the Secaucus High School auditorium for a public hearing before the State Health Planning Board on the proposed sale of Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus.

Members of Emerson-based Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents about 400 employees at Meadowlands, wore red shirts that read "Put it in writing." It was a solidarity effort, calling on the hospital's buyer to address their concerns about diminished care. They hope that full staff and services will be retained.

Current owner LibertyHealth plans to sell the 230-bed hospital to Newark-based private investment group MHA LLC for $15 million. The buyer will convert the facility from a nonprofit to a for-profit institution, a proposal that has come under scrutiny.

MHA is in talks with LibertyHealth on a management agreement that will let MHA begin operations prior to the license transfer.

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

State watchdog group New Jersey Citizen Action (NJCA) and HPAE worked to collect 1,200 signatures from Secaucus residents on a petition, which was presented to the Health Planning Board at the hearing.

"Converting the hospital to for-profit is contrary to the mission of health care," said Ev Liebman, director of organizing and advocacy for NJCA. "That's not to say it couldn't work, but we have serious concerns."

Each speaker was allotted three minutes and typically expressed a less-than-positive response to the proposed sale.

Joann Dudsak, registered nurse and president of HPAE Local at Meadowlands, said the staff's chief concerns are 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 current staff."

William Maer, MHA spokesman, said that since the Department of Health and the Attorney General's Office deemed the group's application complete in early August, allegations of financial instability are unfounded. Financing is expected to be complete in the next few weeks, Maer said.

"We feel very confident that these concerns will be addressed by our organization in a timely manner," Maer said.

Anthony Aiello, a Eucharistic minister at the hospital, called the proposed sale an excellent move, but advised giving staffers at least 90 days' notice prior to layoffs, if layoffs are necessary.

"The staff is spiritual, dedicated and they're for real," Aiello said.

There are at least two more public hearings scheduled, Sept. 21 and Sept. 30. Times and locations for the hearings were unavailable yesterday.

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