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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Top 10 stories for '08 - No. 4 - Muhlenberg: Jerry's plan; Sharon's dereliction

Counting down toward 2009, Plainfield Today will be posting the top 10 stories of '08 that readers have found of interest, measured by number of views.

Today, Number 4, a double from May:
Muhlenberg: Jerry's plan; Sharon's dereliction.

"Jerry's plan to keep Muhlenberg open"

Plainfield Today transcribed the Courier story, which was posted online in an incomplete version. A second post outlined the questions Jerry's plan raised.

First, the Courier article --
Published in the Courier News, Tuesday, May 20, 2008.

Online headline: Solaris may be willing to negotiate a selling price for Muhlenberg Medical Center

Print headline:
Muhlenberg to stay open?
Solaris offers proposal to keep hospital running


Solaris Health System might be willing to negotiate a price for keeping the acute-care facility at Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center open until a management team can be put in place to run a streamlined facility that would ensure basic health-care needs for the people of Plainfield and its surrounding areas.

This dramatic development emerged Monday when Assemblyman Gerald Green (D-Union) announced that he would introduce a "serious developer'' who would outline his plans for keeping Muhlenberg open at a special community meeting set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Washington Community School, 427 Darrow Ave. in Plainfield.

According to Green, the developer -- Drew Piscatelli of South Amboy -- would be willing to partner with either Solaris or Somerset Medical Center in Somerville in a plan that would give ownership of the medical center to the city of Plainfield and turn management of the facility over to "whoever is willing to step up.''

"Initally, Solaris was asking for $48 million,'' Green said. "That amount of money was chasing away every potential party. The numbers are a lot different now. We're down to $18 million. That's a big difference. Investors have shown tremendous interest.''

In outlining his plan for a streamlined facility, Green said that people will just have to realize that this is the direction that health-care is taking in the state of New Jersey.

"Short-range, we might have to downsize,'' Green said. "Long-range, we have to have the services that are really needed.''

Green said that would include an emergency room, an acute-care facility and other central services that don't necessarily compete with larger hospitals like JFK Medical Center in Edison (another Solaris facility), Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick and Somerset Medical Center in Somerville.

"It would be more like a shopping mall,'' Green said. "We would be providing ample services where we can turn a profit.''

[Below this point transcribed by DD.]

Again, Green see this as part of the way health care is evolving in today's world.

"Already, we have a lot of doctors who are performing services off-campus," Green said. "We need to find a way to generate tax dollars for the city."

Green convened a task force of concerned citizens and administrators from surrounding hospitals in the wake of the Solaris announcement in February.

In the streamlined "medical mall" setup, Green envisions perhaps 100 beds in the acute-care facililty. Primarily, however, Green wants to make sure that Plainfield residents do not have to travel an extra half-hour or more to get the services they need -- especially for coronary care and childbirth.

On Wednesday, Gree said he expected Piscatellil to lay out a plan for the community and explan to the public what can be done.

In addition, Green is asking the state not to rush into ruling on the Solaris application to close the acute-care facililty. he also wants the state to keep the acute-care license open and Solaris to leave Muhlenberg intact until a decision can be made.

Solaris, however, does not share Green's vision.

"Solaris appreciates all that Assemblyman Green is doing in regards to Muhlenberg," said Solaris spokesman Steven Weiss. "Unfortunately, we are seeking a buyer who is capable of running the facility as an acute-care hospital. We continue to move forward with an orderly closure that allows Solaris to provide health-care services to the residents of the community."

On May 6, the State Health Planning Board conducted a public hearing on Solaris' application for a certificate of need for closure of the acute-care facility at the 130-year-old hospital. More than 1,200 people attended the hearing. Given the overflow crowd and the fact that not everyone who wished to speak could be heard, both Green and Judy Donlen, chairman of the board, asked for a second hearing. That is now scheduled for 6 p.m. June 5, also at the high school.

Solaris' announcement of its intention to close the acute-care facility and leave behind a satellite emergency roon, the school of nursing and several ancillary facilities touched off a round of protests, prayer vigils and rallies, both in Plainfield and at the statehouse in Trenton.

In addiiton, a "Buy Muhlenberg" movement was created by city Council candidate Olive Lynch, who last week convened a meeting of potential investors at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville. The investors met with two other members of Lynch's committee, Green and Ken Bateman, CEO of Somerset Medical Center, who had expressed interest in a potential partnership that would enable Muhlenberg to stay open.

"We needed to know that their interest was real," said Lynch, who thought that everyone at the meeting was excited by the possibilities and appeared to be on the same page. "We should be hearing back from them in the next few days."

Online story here.
Then, the questions it raised for Jerry --
"Saving Muhlenberg or Saving Jerry?"

Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green is one wily politician. Which makes it all the more important to parse today's news (see here) that Jerry has a 'serious developer' who will outline a plan to rescue beleaguered Muhlenberg hospital by having the city become the owner and 'streamlining' it so that it does not compete with JFK or RWJ -- and all this two weeks before a primary election in which Green's political status is (by proxy) on trial.

So, what to make of Jerry's proposal?

It raises more questions than it answers, but here are some that Plainfielders may want to ask on Wednesday evening, when Jerry's developer -- make that SERIOUS developer -- Drew Piscatelli outlines his proposal for Muhlenberg.
  1. WILL MUHLENBERG CLOSE BEFORE ANYTHING IS DONE? I am told that Solaris cannot even contemplate anything except a sale as an acute-care hospital until after the State grants a certificate of need to close the hospital. So much for the patients, medical and support staffs.

  2. HOW WILL THE CITY COME TO 'OWN' THE HOSPITAL? And how will it pay the $2 million/month carrying charges? And why is Plainfield ownership better than ownership by 13 communities -- which Jerry refused to consider earlier?

  3. WHERE DID THE $18M PRICETAG COME FROM? How did Jerry come up with $18M? What happened to the $48M Solaris talks about?

  4. IF THE 'NEW' MUHLENBERG IS NOT TO COMPETE WITH JFK or RWJ, WHAT WILL IT OFFER? Will there be actual 'non-compete' agreements with the other hospitals forbidding the 'new' Muhlenberg from cutting into any of their (profitable) businesses?

  5. WHERE WILL THE MANAGEMENT TEAM COME FROM? What does 'Whoever will step up' mean? Does that mean the Mayor's management team? Her communications team? Who?

  6. HOW WOULD A 'DOCTOR'S SHOPPING MALL' WORK? Will they just have offices? And why would they move their offices there? What about the doctors' offices already on Park Avenue? Would they become vacant properties?

  7. WHAT ABOUT CHARITY CARE? You know, the people without insurace, who aren't going to go away just because Solaris wants to close Muhlenberg? Where will they go?

  8. WILL THE HOSPITAL BE TURNED INTO AN ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY AS PISCATELLI PLANNED ELSEWHERE? Jerry's 'serious developer' has a track record elsewhere. Has anybody checked it out? How has he done in South Amboy? In Millville?

Plenty of questions to be answered before sipping any Kool-Aid.

Without even going into why Jerry's dog-and-pony show is immediately followed by a forum for his candidates in the June Primary.
Lastly, a post on Mayor Robinson-Briggs' dereliction of duty as a Muhlenberg board member --
"The Mayor and the Muhlenberg Mess"

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs asked the state at Tuesday's hearing to keep Muhlenberg open.

It was a great performance, but it made me wonder why she was so late to the party.

The truth appears to be that she never took her responsibilities toward Muhlenberg seriously until the specter of shutting the hospital came to haunt her.

Why do I say that?

Plainfield's mayor becomes an ex-officio member of the Muhlenberg board upon being sworn into office. Except for the 2007 Annual Meeting, I am told Mayor Robinson-Briggs has not attended a single board meeting.

This means that the Mayor did not get the benefit of learning first-hand about the deteriorating situation regarding charity care reimbursement. It also means she did not make an effort to find out what the City could do to be proactive about the increasingly dire situation. Finally, it means she was absent when there was a possibility of using the skills of persuasion to get Solaris to consider other options than the road taken.

And this is the person Assemblyman Jerry Green demanded should replace the current Muhlenberg board president?

Was Mayor Robinson-Briggs derelict in her duties toward the residents -- and voters -- of Plainfield?

You tell me.
The posts, which garnered views within a hair of each other have been grouped together as addressing the Muhlenberg closure issue.

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