Thursday, May 22, 2008

More Twists in Muhlenberg Saga

When it comes to the very emotional topic of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center’s future, recent news stories have only added to the confusion.

This writer cringed at the “sub-hed” on a front page story Tuesday in the Courier News. The headline was, “Muhlenberg to stay open?” and below that, “Solaris offers proposal to keep hospital running.”

This was a perfect example of a process that has plagued both writers and readers over the years. A reporter submits a story to an editor, who reviews it and then passes it along to the copy desk for further review and headlines. Having been a reporter for 16 years, I have seen many a faulty headline. The one cited above was not supported by the story and gave a very incorrect impression. It may have been based on the lead paragraph, which said Solaris Health System “might” be willing to negotiate a price for keeping Muhlenberg’s acute-care facility open. But the writer was not even quoting anybody from Solaris, merely alluding to remarks by Assemblyman Jerry Green.

The story first appeared online early Monday evening, with a longer print version Tuesday that included a disclaimer from Solaris that no suitable buyer has bee identified and that the hospital’s closure was still planned. That information was left off the online version until later on Tuesday.

The newsgathering process is not perfect and any sharp-eyed reader could have concluded that there was a mismatch between the story and the headlines, but the possible confusion is very unfortunate in the current climate of hopes and fears over Muhlenberg.

Solaris took out an advertisement covering two full pages Wednesday, reiterating its stand as explained at an April 21 City Council meeting.

Meanwhile, City Council candidate Olive Lynch had another letter to the editor that, among other things, described the possibility of a “multi-town hospital authority” to take charge of Muhlenberg. Backers of Lynch’s campaign to save Muhlenberg are hoping to stave off a June closing of the hospital while arranging to buy the hospital.

The thought of establishing a multi-town authority brought to mind the process by which another authority came into being. It wasn’t for health care, but for a vital sewer service serving about a dozen towns. The conversion of the Plainfield Joint Meeting to the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority involved getting all governing bodies to sign off on the plan. It took eight years and 17 lawyers to make the change.

Many of the surrounding municipalities have passed resolutions in favor of saving Muhlenberg, but that is the easy part. The implementation is likely to require a similar number of years and lawyers.

Reporter Brandon Lausch has a Courier News story today on Wednesday’s introduction of a developer who has yet another plan for Muhlenberg. Meanwhile, I’m told state officials have been visiting the hospital, and protesters are calling for a probe of Solaris fiscal policies.

The next thing on the horizon is a second hearing to be conducted June 5 by the State Health Planning Board. The two-hour session will begin at 6 p.m. in the Plainfield High School auditorium. At the first one on May 6, more than 1,000 people attended. About 30 people spoke. Written comments were also taken.

Even if each person sticks strictly to the three-minute limit and there are no interruptions for outbursts by the audience, only another 40 people will be able to speak. Central Jersey residents are also urged to contact elected officials to seek support for keeping the hospital’s acute care facility open. The certificate of need for the closing may be approved next month and hospital employees report that the change is already well underway.

Plaintalker’s view is that the problem lies with the larger issue of health care delivery statewide. Click here to see a file of previous Plaintalker posts on the proposed closing of Muhlenberg.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are an asset to Plainfield - on par with our beautiful, one of a kind housing stock! Now that's a combination. Keep up the great reporting; you are much appreciated.

12:12 PM  

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