Jaws dropped throughout Plainfield yesterday morning at the sheer chutzpah of Assemblyman Jerry Green's running to the papers with rumors about Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center before the boards of either Muhlenberg or its parent company, Solaris Healthsystems, had a chance to break the news of future plans for the hospital.
Presumably, the 'elected officials' referred to by Solaris CEO John McGee would have included Assemblywoman Linda Stender. If so, she should be commended for keeping her powder dry.
[Memo to next President of US: Do not put Jerry Green in charge of negotiating ANYTHING; he can't be trusted with confidential information.]
Plainfielders have been on pins and needles since Solaris announced last November it was putting the acute-care hospital up for sale. Like other New Jersey hospitals in financial straits, Muhlenberg is disadvantaged by the failure of the state to provide adequate reimbursement for state-mandated charity care.
Muhlenberg is also disadvantaged by the way the state structures its payments: the largest charity care provider in any county receives the lion's share of the reimbursement for that county. Muhlenberg sits at the intersection, literally, of three counties, Union, Middlesex and Somerset -- but coverage of this market area is not factored in to its reimbursements.
Nonetheless, I have heard that there has been considerable interest on the part of several buyers in Muhlenberg. However, pursuing these would involve intense and protracted negotiations. Not only would there be haggling over price, any buyer would have to engage in a process of due diligence that would involve looking over the hospital's books, assessing the value of its assets, and evaluating its market position. Not the kind of stuff done in the glare of newspaper publicity.
For Plainfielders, Muhlenberg's fate has two facets.
First, of course, is that it is the community's only acute-care hospital, meaning that its loss would not only inconvenience patients who would use Muhlenberg on an elective basis, it would be life-threatening to those -- such as heart attack and stroke victims -- who would have to be transported long distances by ambulance to other hospital facilities.
Secondly, Muhlenberg is one of Plainfield's two largest employers (the other is the school district), and the loss of over a thousand jobs would have a severely negative impact on the local economy, especially given the prospect that the country is sliding into a deep recession.
People would be in danger of losing not only their jobs, but their homes, their insurance coverage, their cars and who knows what else. Oh, and did I forget to mention the loss in property tax revenue for the city? My bad.
In the face of such a threat to the community's well-being, one would expect our fearless government officials to lead the charge for a positive outcome, wouldn't one?
Since November, not a peep has been heard from Assemblyman Green or Mayor Robinson-Briggs about any efforts to help guarantee a positive outcome for the admittedly dire situation. The Assemblyman has never mentioned the fate of the workers involved, nor has the mayor.
And now, at this late date, what is Jerry's response? The Courier cites Assemblyman Green as calling --
...for the creation of a health-care task force, saying: "In the wake of Muhlenberg's downsizing announcement, measures must be taken to ensure that the hospital continues to provide [a] minimum level of basic health-care services to patients. It's important to seek solutions and not waste time trying to point fingers or lay blame. Regardless of the financial hardships facing hospitals across the state, we have an obligation to provide quality basic health care to our most vulnerable residents."A health-care task force?
Composed of who? To address its recommendations to who? And why now instead of last November?
Why not help in more meaningful ways? Why hasn't Assemblyman Green flipped through his old lobbying rolodex from the Alman Group and helped dig up a buyer? Is he just a taker of fees and not a giver of help to an institution on which his voter base depends?
As for Mayor Robinson-Briggs' take on all this, perhaps the less said, the better. Here is what the Courier quotes her as saying --
"The city of Plainfield is extremely supportive," Robinson-Briggs said. "We do not want to see them leave. We understand that there are fiscal situations that will preclude them from continuing. We're hoping the state will come through for us.""We're hoping the state will come through for us"?
Evidently, she hasn't been keeping up with Gov. Corzine's budget messages.
So, where do things stand?
The Solaris board meets tonight to adopt a plan of action.
The Muhlenberg board meets tomorrow at 8 AM to receive the Solaris resolution.
I am told Muhlenberg's medical staff is to meet Monday to be informed of the Solaris position.
Let's hope Assemblyman Green's self-aggrandizing media grab was just rumor-mongering.
- Courier: "Muhlenberg may be downsized" -- Archived here.
- Plainfield Today (11/16/2007): "Muhlenberg sale: A blessing in disguise?"
- Plainfield Today (12/21/2007): "Is this Muhlenberg's solution?"
-- Dan Damon
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ARCHIVED POSTS OF PLAINFIELD TODAY FROM 11/03/2005 THROUGH 12/31/2006 ARE AT