At the request of the company purchasing Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, the Town Council passed a resolution Wednesday requesting that the state agencies reviewing the sale approve it quickly.
MHA, LLC, a Newark-based group of private investors, filed paperwork in February to purchase the hospital from LibertyHealth, the nonprofit entity that currently owns the facility.
Both MHA and LibertyHealth had expected state agencies to approve the sale by summer. However, the New Jersey Attorney General and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services – two agencies that must approve the sale – are still reviewing the deal.
Recently, a hospital workers’ union has pressed the prospective buyers to state how many employees will be retained after the sale, but the buyers have declined to give an estimate. However, they have promised to keep Meadowlands an acute care hospital and say they will not change its use.
MHA will underwrite the costs of Secaucus’ ambulance services, thus saving local taxpayers about $500,000 annually.
Stating that these losses total $700,000 a month, Vazquez raised the specter of a hospital closure to lobby the council’s support for the sale.
The resolution passed unanimously at the meeting, which was a sparsely attended special session that was not part of the council’s regularly-scheduled meetings.
Sheds new light on plans
The session was an opportunity for the members of the council to hear directly from Vazquez regarding MHA’s plans for Meadowlands Hospital.
He repeated several promises that MHA representatives have made previously, but he also added new details about MHA’s investors, staffing, and the company’s plans to keep the hospital open.
Vazquez said MHA is committed to expanding the emergency room, bringing in advanced imaging technology, and improving the facility’s technology services.
The hospital, he added, will continue as an acute care facility and will continue to offer all of the basic medical services it currently provides. If MHA were to convert Meadowlands to a different type of medical facility – a rehabilitation or pain center, for example – the move would require additional approval from the state, Vazquez said.
In his remarks Wednesday, Vazquez publically announced for the first time that MHA will give the town use of two ambulances, thus eliminated the need for Secaucus to contract with a vendor for ambulance service. This will save local taxpayers about $500,000 annually.
More about the investors
Town Councilman James Clancy asked Vazquez whether any of MHA’s “investors have experience in the medical field or are medical doctors.”
“One is a physician,” Vazquez said. “His license is not active. He voluntarily removed himself from active practice because the regulations in the state of New Jersey do not allow an active physician to have a proprietary interest in a hospital.”
Little information has been publically revealed about MHA and the group of investors involved in the limited liability corporation. In response to follow-up questions from Clancy, however, Vazquez mentioned that “two of the major principals in MHA have significant interests in ambulatory surgery centers.”
These surgery centers, he added, will play a key role in helping MHA stem $700,000 in monthly losses at the hospital.
“Both of those facilities, just within the last year, saw well over 2,200 patients, many who live here in Hudson County,” he said. “[These] ambulatory surgery centers will be downsized and much of the current practice [at the centers] will be shifted to Meadowlands Hospital, immediately bringing [patient] volume and new revenues to an organization that is currently operating at a loss.”
Many staff to be retained, union’s future unclear
He also said MHA is committed to rehiring a majority of current Meadowlands Hospital employees, stating, “We don’t want to lose skilled and dedicated staff.”
But Vazquez would not comment on whether the hospital’s largest union, Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), will continue at the hospital or not.
“According to state law, if there’s a union in place prior to the sale, the union must be retained if they hire 50 percent of union members, plus one person,” said JoAnne Dudsak, a Secaucus resident and president of HPAE Local 5147at the hospital, after the meeting. Dudsak, a registered nurse, has worked at Meadowlands Hospital for 24 years. “So, it’s possible they could hire a majority of current employees, but not a majority of unionized employees. In that case the union wouldn’t be kept. This is one of our concerns.”
In response to this concern, the council added language to its resolution. The language stated that the council wants MHA to meet with current staff “expeditiously to begin labor negotiations.”
About 260 of the hospital’s 500 employees are Secaucus residents.
The resolution was passed at a special council session that was not part of the governing body’s 2010 calendar of scheduled meetings. Unlike most meetings, which attract dozens of residents, Wednesday’s special session was attended by 10 members of the public and one newspaper.
“They’re still going to have to have a public hearing at some point [regarding the hospital], and residents will be able to come to that hearing,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli, when asked why the council didn’t simply pass the resolution at its regularly scheduled of Tuesday, July 27. “This wasn’t the public hearing.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.