Mayors address hospital crisis

Davis and Bhalla optimistic about the future; Fulop petitions governor

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Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla
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Bayonne Mayor James Davis
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Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla
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Bayonne Mayor James Davis

Two of the mayors in cities whose hospitals are affected by the liquidation of CarePoint Health, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and Bayonne Mayor James Davis, are taking different approaches to coping with the potential loss of health care services.

CarePoint Health has dissolved and has been liquidating its assets. That includes selling Bayonne Medical Center (BMC), Christ Hospital in Jersey City, and Hoboken University Medical Center (HUMC).

The new owner of the Bayonne Medical center’s real estate and Hoboken University Medical Center’s real estate, Avery Eisenreich, is the owner of Alaris Health, a nursing home operator with facilities in Hudson County.

CarePoint is suing Alaris, claiming that owner Eisenreich is attempting to turn BMC into a nursing home. The suit also alleges that Christ Hospital in Jersey City may close due to Eisenreich’s alleged interference in CarePoint’s negotiations to sell Christ Hospital to potential new operator RWJBarnabas Health (RWJBH.

Mayor Bhalla says he is confident the situation will be resolved by the two healthcare providers. Mayor Davis, whose administration initially responded in November 2019 to the possibility of Bayonne losing it’s only hospital, reiterated that the newly-formed Bayonne Hospital Authority will step in to save BMC if need be.

The lawsuit claims that Christ Hospital in Jersey City is at risk of closing due to Eisenreich’s alleged interference in CarePoint’s deal with RWJBarnabas.

Mayor Steve Fulop said the hospital closing would be a “disaster” and asked Gov. Murphy to intervene as RWJBH and CarePoint negotiations are at an “impasse.”

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla

Hoboken spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri said the Bhalla administration has been working closely with the City Council and the Hoboken University Medical Center board to ensure that a deal is secured with RWJ Barnabas to operate the hospital, noting that it’s “imperative” for the city to have a fully functioning hospital.

“Mayor Bhalla is focused on doing whatever he can to make sure HUMC continues to provide excellent service to the residents of Hoboken,” Chaudhuri said.

When asked if the city would enter into the negotiations and be a guarantor as it was in the 2011 purchase of the hospital or if they would consider acquiring the hospital through eminent domain, Chaudhuri said, “eminent domain is not something that is on the table, and the city is not in the position to own a hospital.”

“The mayor is confident that the two parties will find common ground, and he is ready, willing, and able to do anything he can to help facilitate that,” Chaudhuri added.

Bayonne Mayor James Davis

When asked to consider whether Eisenreich might potentially turn BMC into a nursing home, Davis reiterated the city’s belief that the medical center should remain open as a hospital for the safety of the community.

“The goal of the City of Bayonne is that Bayonne Medical Center should stay open for business as an acute care hospital,” Mayor Davis told the Hudson Reporter. “As a matter of health and safety, we need a full-service hospital in our community that can save lives and help maintain the well-being of our residents.”

Davis noted the efforts his administration has made to keep BMC operating as a hospital.

“We have met with officials ranging up to Gov. Murphy to make the case for keeping Bayonne Medical Center open as an acute care facility,” Davis said. “We will continue to confer with representatives of state agencies and members of the healthcare industry to emphasize the importance of Bayonne Medical Center to our community.”

Those efforts include the recent formation of the Bayonne Hospital Authority, which aims to prevent the loss of healthcare services to the city’s residents.

“In late 2019, the City of Bayonne made backup plans for the future of Bayonne Medical Center,” Davis said. “We established the Bayonne Hospital Authority and named commissioners to its board. In case it is needed, we could activate this local authority to manage the hospital on an interim basis until a healthcare company came forward to take over Bayonne Medical Center.”

Overall, Davis maintained a positive outlook as the city continues to deal with the healthcare crisis.

“We will continue to explore all reasonable solutions that would ensure that Bayonne Medical Center has a future as a full-service hospital in our city,” he said.

A triumvirate of hospitals with a fate unknown

In October 2019, CarePoint Health and RWJBarnabas Health signed a letter of intent, whereby Christ Hospital and the Hoboken facility will become part of RWJBarnabas Health.

In November, Eisenreich purchased the real estate of the Bayonne and Hoboken hospitals. But according to CarePoint Health officials, he is not interested in operating Bayonne Medical Center, nor in helping CarePoint find a new operator.

So while BMC has a new landlord, CarePoint is still searching for a strategic partner to lease it from Eisenreich and operate the hospital.

CarePoint’s lawsuit filed in December of 2019 alleges that Eisenreich plans to turn BMC into a nursing home and names Eisenreich, Alaris, and MPT of Hoboken TRS as defendants.

HUMC Holdco LLC, a leading member in CarePoint’s ownership group, claims in the suit that Eisenreich attempted to thwart negotiations to maintain BMC’s operation as a hospital by discouraging potential buyers.

A series of hospital transparency bills written amid the ongoing crisis caused by CarePoint’s liquidation were signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy on Jan. 21.

Members of the state assembly Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson), Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) and Robert Karabinchak (D-Middlesex) sponsored the legislation, aimed at increasing New Jersey hospitals’ transparency to help prevent the abrupt loss of important healthcare services in local communities.

“If we had known sooner about a planned merger that could leave residents without access to healthcare, we could’ve had conversations with CarePoint Health to try to determine a better approach,” Assemblyman Chiaravalloti said. “For a district as densely populated as the 31st, the closure of a medical center could be the difference between life and death for our residents.”

 For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com and Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com