Health care stakeholders raised concerns Tuesday about the potential impact on health care workers and the community of a consultant’s recommendations that three of the five hospitals in the greater Newark area cease operating as full-service acute care hospitals and instead be transformed into modern ambulatory care facilities.The state of New Jersey commissioned the study by Navigant Consulting, which recommends investing more than $1 billion in a major reorganization of health care in the Newark area.
Navigant recommends that the state-owned University Hospital be expanded and operate in an integrated fashion as a public/private partnership with Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, which would specialize in ambulatory care.
In the report released by the state late Monday, Navigant recommends that Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark and East Orange General Hospital also transition to outpatient facilities, with Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville continuing as an acute care hospital.
Barnabas Health, which operates Newark Beth Israel and Clara Maass, has not yet commented on the report.
University Hospital, however, responded favorably.
Chief Executive James R. Gonzalez said in a statement: “We look forward to discussions with both Rutgers and Barnabas on the creation of a regional medical center on our campus to serve the Newark community and in support of the Newark Agreements.”
University is the teaching hospital of the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark.
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Donna Leusner, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said the report “is a tool for use in making future decisions about the health care delivered to the Newark area.”
The Navigant report is a good first step, but more work is needed, said Jeanne Otersen, policy director of the Hospital Professional and Allied Employees union, which represents 1,300 nurses and other professionals at University Hospital, out of a total of about 3,300 hospital workers.
Otersen said it is critical that Navigant recognized the importance of University Hospital.
Navigant noted that the 2013 law that dismantled the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and folded most of its medical education programs into Rutgers University, also required that University Hospital continue to operate as an acute care hospital.
“There is significant investment needed to do what the report suggests, and is the state ready do that for the Newark community? That is a very important question,” Otersen said.
A key issue, she said, is “how inclusive will the process be — of workers, health advocates, community leaders — to move forward in a way that minimizes disruption and that is transparent and accountable.”
Otersen said the report assesses the Newark region’s existing health care system and considers “how we can be more efficient in the future. That’s good, but it doesn’t go far enough. I would have liked to have seen more from the perspective of community needs. I would want to see how you move Newark forward to provide the care that people ready need.”
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Doug Placa is executive director of JNESO, which represents 500 health care workers at Saint Michael’s Medical Center, which employs about 1,400 people. He said he supports the proposed sale of Saint Michael’s to the California based for-profit hospital company Prime Healthcare Services, which plans to keep the hospital open as an acute care hospital.
“I certainly disagree with the (Navigant recommendation) to make Saint Mike’s an ambulatory facility,” he said. “That would certainly limit health care access for the people of Newark.”
He said the hospital “has been a vital part of the community for the better part of 150 years. People have come to rely on being able to go to Saint Mike’s for whatever their health care needs are.”
He said the jobs at Saint Michael’s “are good-paying jobs, and the workers contribute to the local economy. You can imagine the economic effect it will have on the community if you change its mission as the Navigant report is suggesting.”
He said the sale of Saint Michael’s to Prime “would enable Saint Mike’s to continue its mission and move into the next phase of its existence.”
Tim Foley is political director of the Committee of Interns and Residents SEIU, the union that represents 500 resident physicians at University Hospital and 125 at Saint Michael’s.
He said the residents at Saint Michael’s are being trained as specialists who care for in-patients at the hospital — and he said it’s not clear what would happen to the residency program if Saint Michael’s becomes an ambulatory health care facility.
“For us, there are just way too many questions that are not even tackled in the report,” Foley said.
Foley said he doesn’t know if the Navigant recommendation “will be good for the physicians supply in the city or bad for physicians supply in the city. We will be looking to the state to clarify (the issues). Ultimately, many of these decisions need to be made by the institutions in the state and we’ll be watching their reaction closely.”
Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka told NJBIZ in a statement: “We take the subject of health care in the city of Newark extremely seriously, regarding it as a public safety issue for our residents. That being said, we will have no comment on the Navigant report until we have fully reviewed this document and its conclusions.”
A health care stakeholder organization, the Campaign to Protect Community Health Care, said in a statement: “The Navigant report independently verifies what our coalition has been saying — Newark hospitals need to collaborate to survive, not just compete.”
The group said that, “Although this report is thoughtful in its analysis, the hows of policy development are largely left unanswered. Even more important, we don’t know how this will be experienced by the patients of Newark.
“The largest question of all is whether the New Jersey Department of Health will commit to this vision of Newark health care with both investment and force of will. Will all the necessary services offered by the city’s hospitals be maintained? Will staffing levels and local jobs be maintained? Will the providers bringing this vision to life also keep health care affordable for working families by agreeing to stay in-network with insurers? These are important issues and this report is silent on many of them.”
To view the Navigant report, click here and select it from the list of reports.
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