Unions: Put it in writing that we’ll still be a hospital

Prospective new owner meets with Meadowlands staff

With the sale of Secaucus’ Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center currently pending before two state agencies, the group of private investors trying to purchase the facility held a series of meetings on June 24 with hospital staff to discuss Meadowlands’ future.
The investors discussed their plans to lure more patients to the hospital so it can stay in business, but did not address how many of the current staff will stay on after the sale is completed.
While employees called the meetings “positive,” union leaders said last week that they still have many questions regarding the likely new owners’ plans.


“If we don’t buy this facility it will more likely than not close.” – Bill Mear

“None of what was discussed was what people who work at Meadowlands Hospital and who live in Secaucus need to hear and see in writing,” said Jeanne Otersen, spokesperson for the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), a union that represents about 250 hospital workers.
She added, “Members of our union, other employees, asked, ‘Where is the written commitment to keep this hospital open as a community hospital?’ There’s been no commitment to keep their staffing levels. There’s been no commitment to keep the employees they have now.”
Such commitments, she said, have been put in writing when other New Jersey hospitals were sold in the past.
But a spokesman for MHA – the collection of investors who came together to buy the hospital – said last week that it would be premature to make such commitments at this time.

‘Everybody is anxious’

LibertyHealth, which currently owns Meadowlands Hospital as well as Jersey City Medical Center, announced in January that it had accepted an offer to sell Meadowlands to Newark-based MHA, LLC.
Specific terms of the deal have not been made public. But one source close to LibertyHealth said in January that MHA agreed to buy the 230-bed hospital for $16 million.
Bill Mear, an MHA spokesman, has repeatedly said since January that the hospital will remain an acute care facility once the sale is complete.
Since then, however, the hospital’s 550 employees – an estimated 200 of whom are Secaucus residents – have asked to meet with MHA executives to discuss whether core medical services and the current staff will be retained after the sale is approved.
Employees say these issues have yet to be addressed and were not raised at the June 24 meetings, which focused on various capital improvements MHA plans to make.
Last week, Mear said “as an acute care hospital, core medical services will continue.” But he said it is still too early in the process for staffing matters to be discussed.
“I understand that everybody is anxious, and they want answers,” he said, but “there’s a regulatory process that still must unfold and we aren’t at the stage in the process where we’re ready to discuss that. We’re still meeting with human resource advisors about benefits packages and what those packages will look like.”

Attracting patients, business

A for-profit limited liability corporation, MHA’s first priority has been to find ways to attract more patients to Meadowlands Hospital.
“If we don’t buy this facility, it will more likely than not close,” Mear said. In an effort to attract new business to Meadowlands Hospital, he added, MHA “is actively trying to recruit physicians from different medical disciplines to improve the patient flow of the facility. They’re in active conversations with several oncologists, for example, to create an oncology program there, which they do not have now…There are plans to purchase a new $4 million MRI machine.”
MHA also plans to expand the facility’s emergency room, he added.
At the June 24 meetings with hospital staff Mear said MHA executives emphasized how these capital improvements will help make Meadowlands Hospital a vital institution again.
“We’re excited about these investments,” said Mear, “and we think the community should be excited about them as well.”

Questions remain

But staffers and hospital union leaders want more specifics regarding MHA’s plans for the current employees and medical services post-sale – and the union is now trying to get the community to lobby its cause.
“When a hospital, a nonprofit community asset and vital community institution, is being sold to a for-profit company, that affects health care,” said Otersen. “And the Secaucus community has a right to know what’s going on and to be involved.”
The meetings between MHA and hospital employees came days after the HPAE began running newspaper ads that asked, “Meadowlands Hospital is for sale. But who will pay the price?” A similar ad currently running on www.HudsonReporter.com and elsewhere also asks members of the public to sign a petition of “support.”
“We took out those ads because we believe the public has a right to be a part of this entire process,” Otersen commented. “It’s about the community’s right to know, transparency, and accountability so that any sale really benefits the community, not just stockholders.”
Between 500 and 1,000 signatures have been recorded, she said.

State reviewing sale

By law, the state Attorney General and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services must approve the sale before it can be finalized, and there must be a public hearing. Both departments are currently reviewing the deal between LibertyHealth and MHA. The sale has already taken longer than the 90 days originally estimated when the sale was announced.
The AG’s office appears to be asking some of the same questions as the employees.
In a letter dated May 7, 2010, Deputy Attorney General Jay Ganzman wrote: “Advise whether the buyer intends to employ any or all of the hospital’s current employees. If not, when does [LibertyHealth] anticipate sending out [termination] letters to the hospital’s employees?”
Later Ganzman wrote, “Why is the LibertyHealth board willing to accept an agreement that does not require [the] buyer to employ [the] hospital’s current employees and maintain their current benefits, seniority, etc.?”
The state agencies are also trying to get clarity on MHA’s structure. Although the company has a handful of principals, there are several other individuals who are shareholders in the deal, according to state documents.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group