The charade that state authorities are playing over the proposed closing of Plainfield's Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center was revealed in testimony that Heather Howard, commissioner of Health & Senior Services, gave to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee yesterday.
In a story from Gannett's state bureau in today's Courier (see here), Howard is cited as saying the impending closure of Muhlenberg may ultimately help other nearby sites, such as JFK in Edison.
The fact that she would even mention Muhlenberg -- and apparently as a DONE DEAL -- gives the lie to the notions that --
- she was not going to make any public comment while the process was ongoing, and
- that the process really is a fair one and will make a decision based on a needs assessment of the community.
Everyone is willing to acknowledge that the shrinking of federal and state payments is key. Everyone acknowledges charity care -- which New Jersey hospitals cannot, by law, refuse -- is putting many hospitals in jeopardy.
But the one elephant in the room that no one ever wants to talk about is the POLITICS of how these decisions are being made.
It was quite clear years ago in the way the cardiac surgery licenses were doled out that the whole process was political. Some hospitals got licenses and simply 'banked' them. Muhlenberg, with admittedly the BEST PROPOSAL, was shut out completely. Our political heavyweight, Assemblyman Jerry Green, couldn't pull it off.
Same thing happened when the Assemblyman attempted to get a school built on the Muhlenberg campus and shift millions toward the hospital. Our political heavyweight, Assemblyman Jerry Green, couldn't pull it off.
And here we are now, with the Assemblyman working full speed to cooperate with Solaris in shutting Muhlenberg down -- all the while claiming to be 'supporting' the community.
I believe that a fair and impartial needs assessment would show that Muhlenberg is indeed 'most critical' (as Gov. Corzine likes to say) to Plainfield and the surrounding communities.
I have heard rumors that originally it was JFK that would have been slated for closure, and that Muhlenberg served a more critical need. If that is true, Plainfield and the surrounding communities are being given the short end of the stick and politics once again trumps reality or necessity. In war, they call it 'collateral damage'.
As Ms. Howard is cited in the story as saying, Muhlenberg's closing may ultimately help JFK.
But here's a thought for Heather Howard and JFK: What will you do when all the problems that have burdened Muhlenberg simply show up on JFK's doorstep?
How long will it take before JFK sinks beneath the waves?
Three years? Five years?
And for this, 131 years of service to Plainfield should be sacrificed?
- Courier: "Official: Expect more hospital closings"
-- Dan Damon
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