Jersey City residents who attended two public hearings on the fate of Christ Hospital were unified last week in their support of efforts to keep the facility open and transfer ownership to a new operator. A handful of those who attended the hearings, however, also urged the board to place conditions on the hospital’s presumptive new owner so that the facility’s current services are maintained.
On May 23 and 24 three members of the state Health Planning Board held hearings in Jersey City to collect public comments on the transfer of ownership to Hudson Hospital Holdco. The for-profit company already owns Bayonne Medical Center and Hoboken University Medical Center. Such hearings are required by state law before a hospital’s ownership can be transferred from one owner to another.
The cash-strapped Christ loses approximately $800,000 a month and faces the possibility of closing if a new owner does not take over the facility.
‘The owners of Hudson Hospital Holdco have articulated a vision for a new integrated health care delivery system to provide high quality care at lower costs.’ – Peter Kelly
The hospital filed for bankruptcy in February after a sale to a California-based company faced challenges from state regulators and fell through after the California buyer walked away from the deal.
According to sources who attended the bankruptcy hearings earlier this year, Holdco has agreed to buy Christ Hospital for $43 million.
Before Holdco can take over the facility it must first get approval from the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General, the state Health Planning Board, and the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
Employees: Approve transfer, don’t let Christ close
Jersey City has already experienced the closure of St. Francis hospital in 2006 and Greenville Hospital in 2008. Preventing the closure of yet another medical facility in this city of 247,000 residents was emphasized by most of the people who testified at the hearing – many of whom were also Christ employees.
According to Christ Hospital CEO Peter Kelly, the medical facility is one of the largest employers in Hudson County.
“One of the reasons why I went into the medical field was because, as a child, I used to visit my mother, who used to work at Christ Hospital. So I have a very strong connection to this hospital,” said employee Ling Ling Tolentino. “I don’t want to see this hospital close. I’ve seen the way our patients are cared for and I’ve seen the important role we serve for our patients. Without this transfer [of ownership to Hudson Hospital Holdco], we might not be here and that would leave a major void in the community and the patients we serve.”
Josephine Spina, a volunteer with at the hospital said, “I have seen the way the doctors and nurses at Christ Hospital care for the people in their care. If the hospital were to close, if we were to lose that, it would be terrible. I urge you to support the transfer to [Holdco] so the staff can continue to maintain quality care for the residents of Hudson County.”
Several doctors at Christ, who also practice at Bayonne Medical Center, said they are beginning to see coordinated medical services among Holdco’s two current facilities – in Bayonne and Hoboken – and they stated these coordinated services will improve patient care and encourage patients to stay within Hudson County when seeking medical treatment, rather than going elsewhere.
Nurses’ union, community activists: approve transfer – with conditions
Community activists and the union that represents more than 400 nurses at Christ Hospital also supported the transfer of ownership to Hudson Hospital Holdco. But they emphasized the transfer must come with conditions that protect uninsured and underinsured patients and maintains current health services, regardless of profitability.
Ann Twomey, president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), the nurses’ union, said at the hearing, “I am here because nurses and health care workers in Hudson County have witnessed firsthand the damaging impact that for-profit care can have on access and quality of care, on staffing and services, and on a commitment to our community – if these changes are made without scrutiny, conditions, oversight, and enforcement.”
Twomey noted that HPAE is particularly concerned about discrepancies between promises Holdco representatives made to the community earlier this year at public forums and documents submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and the Office of the Attorney General.
In a May 14 letter to the Department of Health and Senior Services, HPAE requested that the agency strengthen or expand several commitments Hudson Hospital Holdco made in its Asset Purchase Agreement.
Among the requests HPAE made in this letter are a commitment from the buyer to: 1) operate Christ Hospital as a full-service acute care hospital with all the clinical services and community health programs currently offered for at least 10 years; 2) maintain nurse-to-patient ratios sufficient to maintain patient safety and quality of care; 3) hire an independent monitor for health care access and charity care compliance; 4) provide care for patients, regardless of ability to pay or insurance coverage; 5) include community members, workers and local elected officials in implementing the Navigant report, which recommended that Hudson County hospitals collaborate and consolidate services; and 6) retain the current nursing staff, in addition to 90 percent of the remaining hospital workers, and provide all employees with health coverage equivalent to current coverage.
“We have learned from experience that our regulatory agencies must be vigilant in monitoring for-profit companies and their adherence to conditions that protect patient care, access to care, and safe working conditions and staffing levels,” said Nicole Mankowski.
“While we support this sale,” she continued, “we also are aware of the real pressures that will be placed on patient care and services when one for-profit company controls three hospitals in Hudson County, a community with many uninsured families. Health care in Hudson County is at a critical point – and we should not be deciding what services will be offered or eliminated to our communities without a health needs assessment, and without the voices of the community, our elected officials and our health professionals.”
HPAE, which supports the sale of Christ to Hudson Hospital Holdco, already has a tentative labor agreement with the hospital’s likely buyer.
“Conditions the Department of Health and Senior Services places upon new owners are essential for protecting the quality, availability, and accessibility of healthcare services in the communities affected by a proposed license transfer,” Twomey added in her testimony before the state Health Planning Board. The transfer process, she stated, is “an opportunity to clarify to clarify, codify, and improve up on the promises made” by Hudson Hospital Holdco thus far.
If this sale is approved, Christ Hospital will be the fourth Hudson County nonprofit hospital to be sold to a for-profit company in recent years. Bayonne Medical Center, Hoboken University Medical Center, and Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Secaucus are all now operated by for-profit entities.
Resident and activist Paul Bellan-Boyer, who helped spearhead the Save Christ Hospital grassroots campaign earlier this year, testified before the State Health Planning Board and urged state agencies to set up a meaningful monitoring panel to oversee how the hospital is run once the transfer is complete.
Others who testified made a similar request.
“We urge the [Department of Health and Senior Services] to take an active role in ensuring that they proposed sale of the assets of Christ Hospital to Hudson Hospital Holdco…does not result in the deterioration of the quality, availability, or accessibility of health services in the communities currently served by Christ,” said Renee Steinhagen, attorney and executive director of New Jersey Appleseed, a public interest law firm. “We believe that such actions must include the development of strong, meaningful, and targeted conditions that your department intends to enforce. Such conditions must ensure maintenance of service to Medicaid, uninsured, and other indigent patients at current levels…For the if the new operators of Christ Hospital cannot be restrained from engaging in several practices that prevail at Bayonne Medical Center, and are beginning to appear at Hoboken University Medical Center, the transfer of license to them is likely to have an adverse impact on the two remaining nonprofit hospitals in Hudson County and the residents of Hudson County.”
In his own testimony before the state Health Planning Board, however, Christ CEO Peter Kelly insisted that too much is made of the differences between for-profit and non-profit ownership
“The owners of Hudson Hospital Holdco have articulated a vision for a new integrated health care delivery system to provide high quality care at lower costs, while at the same time providing greater access to all levels of care, including preventative care, ambulatory care, in-patient care, and long term care,” Kelly said. “There’s been much said about the issue of not-for-profit versus nonprofit hospitals. I’ll close with a quote from Commissioner Maureen O’Dowd, which she wrote in her approval of the [sale of Hudson University Medical Center to Holdco last year]: ‘The issue of the for-profit status of an applicant one that has been raised in other hospital transfers. Neither the staff nor the hospital planning board has ever determined that the for-profit status of an entity is one that is relevant in the review of…an application.”
All hospital owners, regardless of their for-profit or nonprofit status Kelly said, must comply with state laws regarding access to medical care.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.