Residents throughout Jersey City packed a Summit Avenue church Wednesday to express concerns and reservations over the proposed sale of Christ Hospital to a for-profit hospital chain.
“I understand the hospital is in a state of financial crisis. And I recognize that it needs to be economically viable in order to stay open,” said community activist Paul Bellan-Boyer, who helped organize the “town hall” meeting at Second Reform Church. “Clearly, we need to find ways of doing that. But I’m not convinced that this sale is in the best interests of the residents of Jersey City.”
In the last few years, three other nonprofit hospitals in Hudson County have been sold to for-profit companies, leaving only Christ Hospital, Jersey City Medical Center, and Palisades Medical Center as non-profit.
Prime makes only a five-year commitment to remaining an acute care facility.
Over time, many privately-owned hospitals tend to increase profitable medical services (neurology, trauma, ER), while curtailing unprofitable ones (psychiatric care, OB-GYN, pediatrics).
Joseph Scott, president and CEO of Jersey City Medical Center, and representatives from the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) union, which represents 400 Christ nurses and other workers, said they shared the concerns of the community.
If the sale is approved, Jersey City Medical Center would become Jersey City’s only remaining non-profit hospital.
The fear is that any medical need not met by Christ will, in the future, have to be absorbed by Jersey City Medical Center.
Also, two of the hospitals that went for-profit, Bayonne Medical Center and Hoboken University Medical Center, canceled contracts with several insurance companies in order to negotiate for a better rate, which means many customers could no longer use those hospitals if they wanted to continue paying the in-network rates for their insurance.
Kelly: Sale will keep hospital open
Speaking to the forum Wednesday, Kelly painted a picture of a hospital that is on life support.
“Like other hospitals in Hudson County and throughout New Jersey, Christ has been struggling with the needs of the community and financial pressures,” he said. “Government is restricting our ability to be reimbursed. At the same time, the level of uninsured is growing. The need for health care is growing.”
According to a September letter submitted to the state Attorney General from Christ’s lawyers, the “hospital’s total liabilities exceed approximately $123 million. In contrast, the hospital has recorded its assets as of June 30, 2011 at approximately $38.7 million…The proposed [sale] will inject new capital, keep Christ Hospital open as an acute care general hospital, and maintain programs and services vital to the community.”
Kelly said executives at Christ have tried for the past five years to form partnerships and alliances with other non-profit hospitals to consolidate services and save money. It was only after these efforts fell apart due to a lack of financing that Christ explored the possibility of a sale to Prime Healthcare.
Prime has agreed to make $35 million in capital improvements at Christ once the sale is completed.
He noted that he is beginning to plan the hospital’s 2012 budget. Without an expedited sale, Kelly said he can’t rule out the possibility of staff layoffs next year.
Scott, nurses: Not so fast
But Prime has been investigated for its medical and business practices in California, where the company owns 14 for-profit hospitals, and the state has taken steps to curb Prime’s ability to buy other facilities there in the future. California’s Attorney General also sued Prime Healthcare for closing a psychiatric center it had promised to keep open.
These details concerned resident Anna Velandi, who said she had surgery at Christ last year.
“The treatment I received there was wonderful. I can’t tell you how well I was treated when I had my surgery,” she said. “It would be a real shame if they were to decide to change the way they operate there.”
Kelly countered, saying that if the sale to Prime is approved, the level of medical care to the community will be unchanged, even though Prime is a for-profit company.
He said that under Prime, Christ would remain an acute care hospital for at least seven years. But in documents submitted to the state, Prime makes only a five-year commitment to remaining an acute care facility.
Scott and representatives from HPAE challenged several of Kelly’s assertions.
“We’ll be [almost] the only nonprofit hospital left in Hudson County,” Scott said. “This is a recipe for disaster. Health care is going to blow up in Hudson County.”
HPAE spokeswoman Jeanne Otersen agreed, adding, “An acute care hospital can mean a lot of things. It can mean an emergency room with a few other services. It doesn’t necessarily mean every service that our community counts on at Christ Hospital.”
Before the sale of the hospital can be finalized it must be reviewed and approved by the state Attorney General, the Department of Health and Senior Services, and the State Health Planning Board. By law there must also be public hearings on the proposed sale so that members of the community can voice their opinions as well.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.