The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Muhlenberg: McGee's sudden departure from Solaris raises eyebrows

Ernestine's switchboard lit up over the weekend.
 The sudden resignation last Friday of John McGee, CEO of Solaris, parent company of Plainfield's former Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center (now a Satellite Emergency Department of JFK), had eyebrows flying.

What no handing-off-of-the-baton photo? No celebratory banquet (or even luncheon)? No gold watch?

Did he jump? Or was he pushed? became all the talk of the switchboard circuits over the weekend.

As with other abrupt departures 'to pursue other interests' (at least we were spared the pols' usual fallback, 'to spend more time with family'), Muhlenberg and Solaris watchers had plenty of questions.

It's no secret New Jersey's hospitals are in financial difficulties, and JFK is no exception. As a relatively small healthcare system, Solaris has been viewed by healthcare professionals as top-heavy with highly paid administrators. Besides McGee, the system has CEOs for it JFK unit as well as the rehab/nursing homes (which includes Hartwyck at Cedar Brook in Plainfield). If no replacement is made for McGee, the system doubtless looks at a savings in the mid- to upper-six-figure range, money that could be well-spent elsewhere.
Plainfielders and those of the surrounding communities who relied so heavily on Muhlenberg are sensitive to issues around the continued existence of the SED at the Muhlenberg campus.

I am told that the usage numbers continue to run in the range of 20,000 or so ER visits per year, and that the imaging services numbers are also running about on par.

With Solaris formally committed to the Muhlenberg SED into 2013, per the agreement with the state on closing Muhlenberg, the question arises as to whether Solaris will pull the plug in Plainfield.

I tend to think that won't happen for TWO reasons: 1) the JFK Emergency Room situation is reportedly overstressed and sometimes chaotic (why aren't the mainstream media all over this one?), and 2) Solaris is facing an unexpected rise in uncompensated charity care from an entirely unexpected direction: Edison's South Asian immigrant community, a future that Muhlenberg's snootier stepsister JFK never imagined for itself. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Lastly, for Plainfielders, is the future of the Muhlenberg site.
The City Council has asked for input from the Robinson-Briggs administration about whether the property or a portion of it is subject to being put on the municipal tax rolls, since the reasons for which is was originally made exempt no longer apply.  Specifically, there are the facts that the dialysis center is a for-profit entity as well as the imaging services located in the main complex. Plainfield's tax assessor has been reviewing the situation, which seems likely to result eventually in making at least a portion of the Muhlenberg property subject to municipal taxation.

Beyond the tax issue, however, is the general fate of the premises.
The developer spoken of at the Planning Board last fall (see here) is evidently still waiting in the wings, with two matters unresolved and keeping talks from moving forward --
  1. 'Show me the money' -- Neither Solaris nor the Robinson-Briggs administration has received detailed financial information from the putative developer and Robinson-Briggs has already signaled she will not go forward without at least a memorandum of understanding outlining a potential deal (someone put a good idea in her head on this one).

  2. $17 million due to New Jersey -- The state's stipulation that any deal include repaying $17 million in monies extended by it to Solaris has been a deal-killer, as almost everyone recognizes. It would seem to me to make sense to try and get the state to drop the requirement or outright forgive the amount due. In this regard, one would hope the Solaris board was savvy enough to understand the need to have someone who could both argue from familiarity with facts on the ground in Plainfield and have the possibility of a friendly hearing from Gov. Christie. Such a person would more likely be someone like Plainfield native and Republican Assemblyman from Westfield Jon Bramnick than anyone else who could come to mind.
A very last 'little' fly in the ointment which could be an impetus for Solaris to get the ball rolling is, I am told, the $1 million+ per year in costs to heat and air condition the main building of the campus, even though most of it goes unused.

Maybe with McGee gone, some of these issues will begin to be resolved?

We can only hope so.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Following up on departures from Muhlenberg - word is that the experienced staff in Home Care Department, which JFK and State claimed would remain and continue to serve Plainfield, have left in droves. Apparently JFK sold control of department to the owner of Jersey Shore Medical Center, and they've put in staff from there and from NYC who have no experience in Plainfield community and sound driven to change focus to private patients. Betcha ya they'll move office out of Plainfield soon. One more nail in the coffin.