Hoboken’s Municipal Hospital Authority is more than 20 days beyond the 60-day period it set to negotiate with a group from Bayonne offering to buy Hoboken University Medical Center (HUMC), the city’s only hospital, but a sale has not yet been announced.
So, when will a sale happen?
“Hopefully in the next few days,” said Hospital Authority Chairwoman Toni Tomarazzo.
She said a sale could happen as soon as this coming week, as the authority continues to negotiate with HUMC Holdco, a group from Bayonne that made controversial policy changes after buying Bayonne Medical Center.
Holdco is committed to keeping Hoboken University Medical Center a hospital for at least seven years.
Lane Bajardi, a regular commentator on Hoboken’s political scene, accused the authority of “secrecy” surrounding the negotiations.
Many in the city’s political realm see the sale of the hospital as an achievement for Mayor Dawn Zimmer. Back in 2007, the City Council had authorized a $52 million bond to shore up the hospital’s finances after the administration of Mayor Dave Roberts led an effort to save the hospital from closing. But taxpayers feared they’d be responsible if the hospital failed financially. After Zimmer took office, she said she’d like to sell the facility to private owners who would keep it as a hospital.
With City Council elections coming in May, the political atmosphere in Hoboken has become heated.
Bajardi, who is allied with some of Zimmer’s political opponents, quoted the non-profit organizations People for Open Government and New Jersey Appleseed, who have called for a public hearing before the sale of the hospital is completed.
Some City Council members, concerned for taxpayers who are responsible for the $52 million bond, have asked to see other bids for the hospital to determine if the authority made the right decision by choosing to negotiate with the Bayonne group, HUMC Holdco.
Tomarazzo as well as city attorneys, have said the authority is an autonomous body and finalizing the sale lies within their power. Tomarazzo also said details of the other proposals will be made available to the council after negotiations are finished. Some council members believe that it will be too late.
Zimmer has said the establishment of the Hospital Authority was designed to keep the politics of Hoboken out of the transaction. Zimmer sits on the authority board, as does Eric Kurta, a Zimmer-supported 1st Ward council candidate.
Tomarazzo said the authority has looked into “unsupported rumors” about conflicts of interest from certain members of the authority, and said if “credible evidence” of any conflicts are discovered, the authority will take action.
Tomarazzo has said the authority has three goals for the sale of the hospital to a private entity: to extinguish the city guarantee of the $52 million bond, to preserve jobs, and to maintain an acute care facility in the long term.
The authority chose HUMC Holdco after seeking input from a stakeholders group that reviewed the eight potential buyers.
Controversial changes coming too?
When the group behind HUMC Holdco purchased Bayonne Medical Center, they decided not to renew in-network contracts with insurance providers, causing out of pocket costs to skyrocket for patients. Their intent was to make the hospital fiscally solvent, and they did. For Hoboken, the potential owners have said they will sit down to negotiate contracts with all health insurance providers should the purchase go through.
Recently, the group also quietly sold the Bayonne Medical Center property, although they retain ownership of hospital operations, as well as placed an advertisement online for a leaseback of Hoboken University Medical Center, even before a sale had gone through. These moves have made some wonder how transparent they will be.
Tomarazzo still believes the property will remain an acute care facility if HUMC Holdco purchases the hospital.
“My interest is in the long term preservation of this institution,” Tomarazzo said at the meeting on Wednesday.
In Bayonne, a clause in the contract mandates that the site remain a hospital for at least seven years. The authority has said HUMC Holdco is also committed to keeping Hoboken University Medical Center a hospital for at least seven years. The worry for some interested parties is what will happen after that.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com
Other hospital business
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, HUMC Chief Executive Officer Spiros Hatiras has announced that the hospital will soon launch an electronic medical records system, which will ease record keeping and allow the hospital to receive federal stimulus money in the future.
Earlier in the week, the hospital received word that stabilization money from the state Department of Health and Senior Services is en route to HUMC. Hatiras said the hospital asked for $7 million in funds from the state, and received $4.1 million.
$30 million in grants were awarded statewide to “10 health care facilities facing financial and operation challenges,” according to a state release.
“We advocated strongly for this funding in order to enable Hoboken University Medical Center to continue to provide access to quality healthcare as we pursue the transfer of the hospital to private ownership,” said Mayor Dawn Zimmer in a release. “The Hospital Authority and I thank Governor Christie and Health Commissioner [Poonam] Alaigh for this critical funding.”
The funding will begin to flow into the hospital by the end of the month, according to the authority.
The hospital has seen more births in 2011 at HUMC compared to this time last year, and the volume of patients coming in to the hospital has “stayed pretty stable” this year, according to Hatiras.
Before a sale is officially announced, said Toni Tomarazzo, the authority will hold a special meeting, possibly as soon as this week. For updates, watch HudsonReporter.com.