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What’s the hold up with the hospital eminent domain ordinances?

The Bayonne City Council has postponed a vote on the matter while waiting on the Local Finance Board

The battle over the operations of Bayonne Medical Center is still not over. Photo by Daniel Israel

Like clockwork, the Bayonne City Council has again postponed a vote on two ordinances that would condemn the property of Bayonne Medical Center through eminent domain with a price tag of $95 million.

CarePoint Health has been selling its assets, including Bayonne Medical Center. In November of 2019, Avery Eisenreich, owner of nursing home operator Alaris Health, purchased the grounds and building of Bayonne Medical Center.

CarePoint has been searching for an operator for the hospital ever since, signing an agreement in 2020 with BMC Hospital LLC to operate Bayonne Medical Center. Meanwhile, Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus purchased the grounds and building of Bayonne Medical Center from Eisenreich for $76 million.

Since the sale has closed, Hudson Regional has made clear its intention to operate the hospital, not BMC Hospital LLC. This has sparked a war between the two entities over who will operate the hospital.

In May 2020, the Hudson County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to approve three resolutions authorizing the Hudson County Improvement Authority to begin eminent domain proceedings on the Bayonne Medical Center property. Meanwhile, the Bayonne City Council has postponed a vote on ordinances to continue the process at its past seven meetings, after holding a public hearing in May of 2021.

Again, and again, and again

City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski opposes the ordinances and has tried to force a vote on them in the past to end the matter. Her opposition, coupled with Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace’s abstention due to a conflict of interest, means these ordinances will fail to reach the supermajority threshold of four votes needed for them to pass.

Ashe-Nadrowski opposes the ordinances because it is “dispute between private parties and does not present a public benefit” and because she said Hudson Regional Hospital has agreed to a number of things, including agreeing to preserve Bayonne Medical Center as a hospital, dropping any litigation regarding the zoning of the property, and giving the city a right of first refusal. Gullace is abstaining because he sits on the board of Bayonne Medical Center.

First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll, Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, and City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez have repeatedly voted in favor of postponing the ordinances until state approval from the New Jersey Local Finance Board, which has not taken action but must first okay the transaction before the council can act.

For months, the council postponed the vote, waiting for the Local Finance Board to act. The city is also in a holding pattern.

“We are still waiting for a decision from the Local Finance Board,” said Public Information Officer Joe Ryan.

Who’s actually holding things up?

However, according to a spokesperson for the Local Finance Board, the hold up is actually on the applicant’s end, which includes the Hudson County Improvement Authority and the city of Bayonne. While the last time the ordinances appeared was on the board’s July agenda, the matter has not been heard at a meeting since June.

“The matter was deferred after the agenda was published,” said Tammori Petty-Dixon, Director of Communications for the Department of Community Affairs, which the Local Finance Board is a part of. “The application is still pending but considered incomplete until such time that the Board’s concerns are addressed.”

At the June meeting, the board was presented with competing plans by both Hudson Regional Hospital and BMC Hospital LLC lobbying both against and for eminent domain. As a result, the board wanted more time to review the information before making a decision.

“Late in the day yesterday we received some information from the hospital,” said Chairwoman Jacquelyn Suarez at the meeting, according to transcripts. “We haven’t had sufficient time to review all of that, get all of our questions in a row, communicate amongst the board members… We’ve met previously on this application, I think the financing structure makes sense from that standpoint, but it appears based on some of the information that we received, that the project itself may not be ripe.”

While the board seemed to be okay with the financing, it sought more fleshed out plans for the rest of the project.

Suarez continued: “I would like to table this item until next month’s board meeting in order to enable the production of a fleshed out plan regarding the path forward for this project, separate and apart from the actual financing component which I think makes sense and we’re comfortable with… The additional time will just merely also allow the public to weigh in on how this is going to impact them, who are the ones we’re all mostly concerned with here as public entities… We’re going to regroup on our end. I’m going to talk to the board members, see what questions we have that they would like answered.”

The wait continues

That was June. Since then, there has apparently not been a resolution to questions, concerns and or issues raised by the board.

“As of October 27, 2021, the applicant has not determined how to move forward,” Petty-Dixon said.

Meanwhile, CarePoint has announced it will transition from a for-profit system to a nonprofit, further complicating the matter. CarePoint’s three hospitals will continue to operate in their current form and will be controlled by the new nonprofit organization, a spokesperson told BCN when asked if the hospitals were still up for sale.

Despite that, the eminent domain process continues. And according to the spokesperson for the Local Finance Board, the ball is in Bayonne’s court.

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

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