Three years ago, LibertyHealth System was on the brink of financial ruin. A private nonprofit that ran three hospitals in Secaucus and Jersey City, Liberty was losing millions of dollars each year.
In an effort to save its own life, Liberty contracted the services of Wellspring Partners Ltd., an Illinois-based healthcare consulting company. After an exhaustive, top-to-bottom evaluation of Liberty’s facilities – Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center Medical Center, Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC), and Greenville Hospital – Wellspring recommended a sweeping overhaul of Liberty and how it offers medical care. The overhaul was designed to make Liberty financially viable.
At a kick-off last week of Liberty’s new direction and vision, President and CEO Joseph Scott said the overhaul is working.
“Out goal is to stand on our own and have economic health without having to rely on state support,” Scott said. “Two years ago Liberty received $34 million in state subsidies. This year Liberty received $22 million.”
He added that he’d like to get that number down to zero, and he’d even like to see Liberty make money, if possible.
Hospital closings continue
If the company succeeds, it will have achieved an enviable feat. Hospitals throughout New Jersey and across the country are facing difficult financial times. Many have filed for bankruptcy or have closed their doors altogether.
Hospitals, especially those in urban communities like Jersey City, have seen an increase in patients who lack private health insurance. At the same time, state reimbursements for Medicaid and the uninsured – the so called “charity care” patients – have remained flat. Other sources of charitable donations to hospitals have dropped.
Meanwhile, medical expenses and labor costs have gone up, investment returns have dropped, competition from independent providers has increased, and hospitals have struggled to stay afloat.
According to the New Jersey Hospital Association, more than 15 hospitals have closed in the state since 1997, including Liberty’s Greenville Hospital in Jersey City, which once served more than 125,000 patients annually.
At the urging of Wellspring, the company asked the state’s Health Planning Board for permission to close Greenville after Liberty said the hospital lost $3 million a year.
Despite protests from community activists who argued that Greenville would be left without a local hospital, Liberty shuttered Greenville last spring.
“We had such a high burden of charity care patients that we had to request an additional subsidy from the state,” Scott said. “One of the reasons we had to do that was because we weren’t focused on keeping the private care patients. My objective is to take care of anybody who walks through our doors, whether they have insurance or not. But to do that you have to depend on the people who have insurance. So we’ve got to provide top quality care to attract patients with insurance.”
In an effort to attract the insured, Liberty is now trying to market its two remaining hospitals as the premier medical facilities in Hudson County, Scott said.
According to a release issued by the company, several independent rating organizations recognized LibertyHealth last year for providing quality care at its two facilities. And Scott noted that JCMC has the area’s only trauma and perinatal intensive care centers and a top cardiology department.
The company’s new vision and mission is, “Enhance Life.”
Attracting physicians to Liberty’s facilities, Scott said, will also be a “key component” to the company’s strategy.
Also key: getting Liberty’s 3,500 employees to endorse the company’s new vision and mission to “Enhance Life.”
Last week Scott and other Liberty executives held press events to publicly announce their new vision. They encouraged employees at Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center and JCMC to “sign a commitment that they will embrace that mission,” Scott said. “We believe that if the employees embody this mission everyday we can raise our stature, and ultimately become financially strong and independent.”
Employees offer thoughts
Delia Alvarez, a patient technician at JCMC, thought Liberty’s new direction is worth a try.
“It’s good in a way,” she said, after signing the mission statement. “Now, everybody can work together as a team towards the same goal. And people should know about the good care that we give here.”
Coworker Teresita Anocse agreed.
“I don’t mind signing,” Anocse said. “The mission also talks about other things – like trust, teamwork, communication. Those are all important. This could make us better as a hospital.”
However, another employee who asked not to be identified was more skeptical.
“I don’t see anything wrong with the statement,” she said. “I signed it. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t about keeping the hospital in business to serve poor people. This is about getting the folks in the condos to come here.”