Thursday, April 5, 2012

A new model for Muhlenberg Hospital By Assemblyman Jerry Green

When Muhlenberg Hospital closed its doors in 2008, Plainfield and Union County were left a void of healthcare services. Unfortunately, Muhlenberg Hospital is not alone among New Jersey hospitals struggling financially.  Pick up a paper almost any day up-and-down New Jersey and you can read about a hospital on the brink of closure, in bankruptcy, or worse, closing altogether.  The old ways of operating need to be reformed.  We can accomplish many of the things we were doing before by diversifying services, creating efficiencies, and thinking about this problem outside the box.  It is counterproductive to get into a mindset that an acute care facility is the be all end all for the future of Muhlenberg.  I think there is a way to provide our residents with the access to healthcare services – while creating jobs – without necessarily operating an acute care facility. 

One thing I know for certain, we cannot afford to lose Muhlenberg as a facility offering medical services to our residents. 

Other similarly situated hospitals around New Jersey are finding ways to make things work following financial struggles.  In 2008, Barnert Hospital in Paterson, New Jersey filed for bankruptcy.  Much like Muhlenberg, Barnert was just not meeting its bottom line.  A new model was needed to make things work and protect access to vital care services.  And that is exactly what happened.  Following bankruptcy, Barnert emerged with a new model: diversify services and bring together an array of healthcare services all under one roof.  Although no longer an acute care facility, Barnert provides many of the same services as before and actually has more overnight patients. 

It is also a one-stop facility for all of one’s healthcare needs.  It now houses medical offices, a medical oncology group, a breast care detection center, a pulmonary group, and internal medicine doctors.  Furthermore, an adult day-care center, sub-acute rehabilitation center, primary care physicians, and a pharmacy all opened.  I see no reason why Muhlenberg cannot pursue this same model.  We can replicate many of the services and protections that the old Muhlenberg Hospital provided, while ensuring the hospital can operate on sound financial footing. 

More importantly, it will bring jobs back into Plainfield.  It cannot be questioned how important Muhlenberg was as a job creator in Plainfield.  Before it closed, it was our biggest employer with 1,100 full-time workers.  There are also residual effects on small businesses in the community when a facility as large as Muhlenberg closes.  It makes business much harder for any local establishment to thrive when 1,100 members of your customer base are lost.  By bringing a new model to Muhlenberg we can bring back these jobs and ensure access to healthcare is easily accessible for our community. 

In the end, this must be our ultimate goal.

I know I’m going to continue fighting in Trenton to make sure medical professionals are given the tools they need to make this a reality.  I am going to work on incentivizing the type of redevelopment we saw at Barnert.  We should be making it worthwhile for developers and hospital professionals to open closed hospitals and continue operating them as medical facilities.  We need to incentivize this type of smart growth.  It benefits the community by reopening closed medical facilities and allows the math to make sense for groups looking to redevelop closed hospitals.  I think this type of legislation could also be a major economic engine, bringing at least some of those 1,100 jobs lost back to Plainfield. 

I’m taking an all of the above approach in saving Muhlenberg Hospital.  It is too important for our community not to look at every viable option and see if we can make something else work while accomplishing our major goals of creating jobs and protecting access to medical services.  I am going to continue working with my colleagues in the State Assembly to find creative solutions that address these pressing problems facing not only Muhlenberg, but also hospitals across New Jersey.  We cannot sit idly while access to healthcare is restricted for those who need it most.  


Asm. Jerry Green, Speaker Pro Tempore
NJ General Assembly, 22nd District

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