The Bayonne City Council has again postponed a vote on two ordinances that would condemn the property of Bayonne Medical Center through eminent domain.
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 property, including 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 property 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.
Eminent domain on pause
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.
While 2021 was filled with contentious back-and-forth mudslinging between the two entities, things have been silent since the New Jersey Department of Health held a public hearing on a potential further transfer of a stake of ownership from CarePoint to BMC Hospital LLC in December. Since then, things have remained the same, with the Bayonne City Council postponing a vote on the ordinances another three times, in January, February, and now March.
The ordinances usually come and go without much discussion other than the clockwork no vote from City Council President and mayoral candidate Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski, and the abstention of Second Ward City Councilman Sal Gullace since he sits on the hospital board at Bayonne Medical Center.
In response to questions about why the rest of the council was waiting, Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa explained that they were waiting back from the New Jersey Local Finance Board to make a decision on the ordinance. The state entity must first approve the eminent domain transaction before the council can approve it.
“We’ve been waiting for the state Local Finance Board to make some decisions,” La Pelusa said. “That’s what we’re waiting for.”
Residents speak against
Resident Dave Solari echoed calls to vote down the ordinance: “You could actually kill this now and you’re putting this off until next month.”
Ashe-Nadrowski reiterated that she was not in favor of the ordinance and that it would likely continue to be postponed.
“I don’t know how they’re going to vote next month, but every single month they vote to carry it, they refused to take a vote on it,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “I don’t anticipate that Local Finance is going to get back to us.”
Solari asked Law Director Jay Coffey to weigh in, to which Coffey replied: “The state of New Jersey will get to it when the get to it. I think they’re waiting for more information. and when that decision is made, it will force the hand here.”
Coffey confirmed that the Local Finance Board can decide against the application, which would make the ordinances moot. He also confirmed that the council could vote down the ordinance without approval from the Local Finance Board.
“The city council can vote this down without any approvals,” Ashe-Nadrowski said, echoing Coffey. “We do not need to wait for Local Finance.”
Solari then accused the rest of the council who voted to postpone of the ordinances of wanting to wait to act on them until after the May 10 election: “We’re playing games. You guys are hoping to get all back in plus one more person to pass that.”
Resident Pat Desmond, who had asked about the subject at a prior meeting, again questioned if any council members in favor of the ordinance had reached out the Local Finance Board.
“I was here two months ago over this subject and I asked if any of you have called and asked them what’s the hold up,” Desmond said. “Why are we waiting for them to come to us, we should be going to them to ask what’s going on.”
La Pelusa said he called, but “didn’t get an answer from them.” None of the other council members in favor of the ordinance said they called when asked by Desmond.
“Why are we waiting for them? It’s been a year,” Desmond said. “It’s going on and on and on. Somebody needs to do something.”
Hospital staying a hospital
Resident Mike Morris spoke in favor of the ordinances, noting that the hospital needs to remain a hospital. This was a common point of concern for many throughout the process given the history of the hospital, however officials have made it clear they are committed to keeping the hospital open regardless.
“There is a good possibility that we might lose this hospital,” Morris said. “I’m not for that.”
Ashe-Nadrowski agreed that the hospital is essential, and assured it was not going anywhere. She noted that hospitals can’t close without state approval, especially after the pandemic, in addition to a municipal ordinance ensuring the zoning that only permits hospitals.
“We’re all committed to ensuring there’s a full acute-care hospital in Bayonne at all times,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “We have taken measures. We have changed the zoning. It’s a hospital zone that was created so that the only that will ever be is a hospital… There’s no danger of losing the hospital. We have people fighting over running the hospital, so I don’t want to fear monger to get people to think the hospital closing… This is a non-political issue that should be resolved by the entities that are fighting over it for profit… It’s not a political issue, it shouldn’t even be on our agenda. It should be handled between the two companies that are fighting over a piece of land that is not owned by the city.”
First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll explained he was keeping his options open in waiting for the Local Finance Board, adding there was no rush.
“We are the guardians of the city,” Carroll said. “It behooves us to keep every option available no matter what that option may be, in order to ensure the public safety, especially when it comes to a hospital… This is a very key matter, and I don’t mind spending the time to look at it.”
While the Local Finance Board previously told BCN that the hold up was actually on the end of the applicant, that was months ago in October of 2021. The Public Information for the Department of Community Affairs Public, of which the Local Finance Board is a part of, could not immediately be reached for comment. It remains unclear what the hold up is.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.