Health in Hudson County Ups and downs at seven local hospitals

It’s no secret that hospitals in New Jersey and the entire country are suffering financially. It’s also no secret that many of them are trying to become more competitive with new technology to win back patients who have gone to private MRI clinics and other medical businesses.

Across America, hospitals have been closing due to three factors: a lack of sufficient government reimbursement when they treat uninsured patients, a lack of adequate reimbursement from the insurance companies for people who do have insurance, and as mentioned, competition with private facilities that provide MRIs and the like.

Gov. Jon Corzine’s appointment of a Commission on Rationalizing Health Care Resources last year was a step toward aiding the state’s ailing hospitals. A full report on the state’s assessment of hospitals is expected in January of 2008, but there was also an interim report in June of 2007.

According to the report, when a hospital treats an uninsured patient, the state’s Charity Care fund reimburses only 43 cents to 96 cents for every dollar’s worth of services provided. Medicaid pays just 70 cents for every dollar, and Medicare pays 89 cents.

At the time, New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA) President and CEO Gary Carter said, “Today, half of our hospitals are losing money. Twenty-one hospitals statewide have closed in the last 15 years. The alarm bells are sounding throughout our hospital system.”

On Nov. 8, Assemblyman Louis Manzo from the 31st legislative district (Bayonne and parts of Jersey City) introduced a bill that would make it easier for hospitals to get reimbursements from insurance companies. The bill will adjust the uniform medical fees for necessary procedures in order to attain full compensation and not just partial payments.

The bill would also force healthcare companies to first pay hospitals for procedures performed, then later dispute them, rather than having hospitals enter costly legal battles to get paid back by the companies.

However, not every hospital in the area has dealt with financial trouble. Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen and Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus are going strong, as are several others. The former St. Mary Hospital in Hoboken made a turnaround this past year and was renamed Hoboken University Medical Center.

Several of the hospitals are adding new services to compete with private facilities. Below is an overview of Hudson County’s seven hospitals and their efforts to stay in shape.

Bayonne Medical Center

Bayonne Medical Center endured a rollercoaster ride this year. After declaring for bankruptcy earlier this year, BMC may have finally found its saving grace via health care company IJKG.

IJKG has purchased the facility and expects to close on Jan. 19, 2008. The company has agreed to take care of the hospital’s $17 million debt and pay an additional $18.8 million for the hospital.

In efforts to turn a profit, the hospital will change from a non-profit to a for-profit hospital. In published reports, Head of IJKG Vivek Garipalli has said plans will include the addition of 100 more beds.

Board of Trustees of BMC chair Ruth Dugan hopes to reopen BMC’s maternity ward.

It was also recently announced that BMC will receive funds totaling $487,000 for a new electronic medial records system from a new bill secured by Congressman Albio Sires.

Earlier this year, the 120-bed acute care facility was said to be plagued by bad management decisions in addition to the aforementioned nationwide problems. The hospital was reportedly losing about $600,000 a week.

Initial plans to sustain the hospital were aided by Gov. Jon Corzine’s advance payment of $3 million in September via the state’s Charity Care program.

In December, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Morris Stern gave the go ahead for the hospital to be sold to IJKG.

Palisades Medical Center, North Bergen

Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, housing 202 beds and offering acute care services to nearly 350,000 residents of southern Hudson County and Bergen County, is in good shape. In 1998, it linked with the New York Presbyterian Health care system and became affiliated with Columbia Presbyterian and New York Cornell Medical Center. In recent years, the hospital has enjoyed the addition of 50 nurses and a significant personnel boost (more than a third staff increase).

In 2007, the hospital began to offer Uterine Fibroid Embolization care. This is a non-surgical, minimally invasive procedure used to shrink uterine fibroids (benign tumors on the uterus in women). This will allow patients to have fibroids removed without having a hysterectomy.

Additionally, the hospital received a perfect score of 100 for its treatment of heart attack patients by the New Jersey Department of Health & Senior Service Hospital Report released in September. The report also recognized Palisades as the number one hospital in Hudson County for treating patients with congestive heart failure.

The hospital’s Birthing Center also received a 5-out-of-5 star rating from Health Grades, a healthcare rating organization.

The hospital received ample press coverage this fall when the hospital treated superstar George Clooney and his passenger, Sarah Larson. Clooney and Larson were involved in a motorcycle accident on Boulevard East in Weehawken and were transported to Palisades Hospital.

It was reported a few days later that 27 employees were found to have illegally accessed Clooney’s medical records. The employees, none of whom were full-time doctors, were suspended for a month without pay while seven of those employees appealed their suspensions.

Greenville Hospital, Jersey City

Owned by LibertyHealth Group (a group that owns Greenville, Jersey City Medical Center, and Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center), Greenville’s “small community hospital with a big heart” is located on Kennedy Blvd. at the southern end of Jersey City.

This past June, LibertyHealth filed an application with the state to close the 100-bed acute care facility, due to a $2 million debt. However, outrage grew from city officials and the community when word leaked.

After a meeting with the New Jersey State Health Planning Board and LibertyHealth officials in Princeton in late October, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy vowed to somehow come up with $1.5 million in order to keep the hospital open for another six months. Two weeks ago, the City Council voted to lend or grant the money to the hospital if that would keep it open while a new buyer could be found.

However, the owners of LibertyHealth said that the hospital is not in a position to take on any added debt.

Currently, Mayor Healy is scouting potential buyers, some of which include those who were interested in Bayonne Medical Center in the past. Though there is no “sticker price” on the hospital, Mayor Healy has noted the cost would be substantially less than that of Bayonne Medical Center.

Greenville has prided itself on its proximity to Greenville residents and new, modern health facilities, and up-to-date Emergency Room, and modern diagnostic equipment.

Hoboken University Medical Center

Known as St. Mary Hospital until the city took it over last year, the Hoboken University Medical Center was officially christened on Feb. 1, 2007.

Having suffered many of the shortcomings of other local hospitals, the city decided to buy the 143-year-old hospital from Bon Secours in late 2006 for a debt-free price of $1. Bonds totaling $52 million were approved by the City Council and then sold to private investors in order to secure the once ailing hospital.

The 328-bed acute care hospital is now overseen by a newly created entity known as the Hoboken Municipal Hospital Authority. The hospital is run by Harvey Holzberg, the former president of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.

HUMC recently celebrated a turnaround, as it announced in December that it had flipped a deficit of $25 million the previous year into a $10 million profit this year. Hospital officials attribute the success of the hospital to several circumstances. For one, they have attracted new doctors, and thus, new patients. The hospital has seen a 20 percent patient increase.

They have also achieved a $12 million reduction in spending by bringing information technology and consulting in-house.

Earlier this year, the hospital formed a partnership with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) and Rutgers University.

In addition, the hospital benefits from grants awarded by Medicaid’s Disproportionate Share Hospital program. Under DSH grants, the state pays the difference between Medicaid-paid procedures and actual cost procedures. They were not entitled to the money when they were a for-profit hospital.

As for new features, HUMC recently opened a Children’s Healthcare Center in conjunction with St. Joseph’s Children Hospital in Paterson.

The hospital anticipates a new Emergency Room being completed mid-2009 on Fourth Street and Willow Avenue. The new ER will be more than triple the size of the old one, and will include state-of-the-art technology. The old ER may be turned into a low-risk catheterization area.

HUMC also enjoys a $750,000 high-definition MRI Unit, the only one of its kind in the nation.

Christ Hospital, Jersey City

Jersey City’s Christ Hospital on 176 Palisade Ave. has recently seen the addition of several investments.

Reacting to the increase in births in 2007 from the expected 1,027 to 1,247 actual births, the hospital has equipped itself with several new obstetric and pediatric resources. One of them is a 4-D – four-dimensional – ultrasound machine that captures live images of a fetus in addition to its internal anatomy.

The 133-year-old hospital was also graced with a 64-Slice CT scanner in June. The $1.3 million scanner provides detailed images of the body more quickly than standard 16-Slice CT scanners that offer blurred, less crisp pictures.

In 2007, Christ Hospital achieved a five-star rating for clinical excellence in maternity care from HealthGrades, a leading healthcare ratings company. In 2008, the obstetric and pediatric department expects a complete refurbishment to be completed by mid-2008. A special Mother’s Day celebration will commemorate the event.

The 381-bed facility also updated their Cardiac Catheterization Lab this summer with $2 million state-of-the-art equipment. To date, 434 cardiac catheterizations have been performed, with an expected number of over 450 by the end of the year.

President and CEO of Christ Hospital Peter A. Kelly has expressed his sentiments regarding a triumphant year. “The success of any hospital is dependent upon its physicians, and Christ Hospital is privileged to have some of the best doctors in the region,” he said.

Kelly has noted the national shortcomings hospitals face and plans to address them accordingly. “This year will be a critical one for not only Christ Hospital, but for every other healthcare facility in Hudson County,” he said.

To prepare, Kelly has announced the construction of a new Medical Arts Office Center which will house private suites for physicians. In addition, a new ambulatory/surgical center will be built in order to enter extended partnerships with the hospital’s physicians.

Kelly concluded by saying that “Christ Hospital [will] continue to provide high-quality care within a supportive and fiscally responsible environment.”

Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center

The Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus is located on the banks of the Hackensack River and houses 230 beds. Owned by LibertyHealth Group, the hospital offers obstetrics, cardiology (including a cardiac catheterization laboratory), operating rooms, and same day surgery. The hospital also hosts an Acute Pulmonary Care Center which tends to patients in efforts to alleviate ventilator dependency.

In November, the hospital was awarded a five-star rating for clinical excellence in a maternity care report issued by HealthGrades, an independent healthcare ratings company. The hospital was ranked amongst 1,500 throughout the country. The five-star rating places Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in the top 15 percent of all hospitals in the criteria.

The Maternal Fetal Medicine Center opened in November of 2006, providing maternal and fetal monitoring, state-of-the-art diagnostic tests, and genetic counseling among other services. The medical director of the center, David Principe M.D., credits the award to “Women responding to the fact that [the hospital] has consistently been recognized for outstanding quality outcomes in obstetrical care over the past several years.”

For 2008, the hospital expects to start construction of its new emergency room. The new ER will be twice the size of its current facilities.

In addition, expansion of the Maternal Fetal Medicine Service will take place, a service that evaluates and treats women who have high-risk pregnancies such as harboring pre-existing conditions or being over the age of 35. It will be staffed by a board certified perinatologist, an ultrasound technician, and registered nurses.

Jersey City Medical Center

Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC) is the last installment of LibertyHealth’s trifecta of hospitals, including Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center and Greenville Hospital.

This 361-bed acute care facility resides on a relatively new 15-acre campus on Grand Street, next to Liberty State Park. During the summer of 2004, the hospital moved there from its antiquated location on Montgomery Street and Baldwin Avenue in Jersey City.

As a result of the healthcare climate, the hospital is trying to reduce its financial losses.

In a move that’s been spoken about since April with the state’s Health Care Resources Commission, the hospital decided to cut back on its pediatric intensive care unit in July due to insufficient staff. However, the hospital is reintroducing its perinatal center.

Jersey City Medical Center is the only hospital in Hudson County that can treat babies born under 34 weeks of age.

According to Dr. Joseph Polcaro, director of Maternal Fetal Medicine, 2008 will see collaboration between JCMC and St. Barnabas Healthcare System’s Children Hospital in Newark in order to offer comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for babies.

Jersey City Medical also hosts top doctors in the nation; this year Dr. Robert Lahita, a world renowned Lupus specialist, and family practitioner Dr. Martin Levine were included in New York Magazine’s best doctors list.

Additionally, the hospital’s prenatal nurse team was presented with Johnson’s Childbirth Nursing Awards Certificate in August of this year.

Vice President of Patient Care Services Rita Smith said, “It’s an absolute honor to be recognized by these highly regarded organizations for [the hospital’s] excellent service.” The Port Authority Heroes of September 11 Trauma Center is named for all those who sacrificed and suffered on 9/11. The regional trauma center is the state designated Level II Trauma Center for Hudson County in which 24-hour comprehensive trauma care and surgery is available in addition to personnel and equipment accessibility. The trauma center has tended to many disasters including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, train derailments, HAZMAT incidents, and was a major responder on Sept. 11.

Comments on this story can be sent to: NMillan@hudsonreporter.com.

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