Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Protesters Pack Hearing on Hospital Closing

A formal state hearing on the proposed closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center turned part rally, part revival meeting as more than 1,000 people packed the Plainfield High School auditorium Tuesday.

Members of the State Health Planning Board appeared to hear comments from the public in a session scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Both oral and written comments were to be gathered as part of the decision-making process to close the hospital.

But residents of Plainfield and surrounding towns served by the 130-year-old hospital came out in force to say the only acceptable outcome was for the hospital to stay open. Already pumped up by a series of prior rallies, including one preceding the hearing, the audience vociferously cheered speakers, despite warnings that the extended outbursts were stealing time from those wishing to comment.

Comments from more than 30 speakers ranged from predictions that deaths will result from patient transport to more distant hospitals to accusations that Muhlenberg’s parent corporation, Solaris, deliberately skimmed off all profitable aspects of health care to benefit JFK Medical Center in Edison. The session ended with the audience linking hands to pray for divine intervention.

During the session, speakers called for audits of Solaris finances, voiced concern for the lack of transportation to other hospitals and questioned the reasons to close a hospital that offers acute care services to 13 Central Jersey municipalities. Speakers included Assemblyman Jerry Green, Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, Plainfield City Council President Harold Gibson, Councilman Cory Storch and other elected officials.

Although the board members were only there to receive comments on Muhlenberg, they heard condemnations of the state and national health systems from both legislators and residents.

The possible failure of Muhlenberg was blamed on a system that demands care for all, despite minimal reimbursement for Medicaid, Medicare and charity care. Due to the gaps, Muhlenberg had been losing money since 1997 and had now reached an untenable level of operation, hospital officials said in previous meetings.

Among the comments at the hearing:

Larry Hamm, president of People’s Organization for Progress, called the situation “a health care Hurricane Katrina.”

Councilman Cory Storch called for support of Sen. Joseph F. Vitale’s health care reform proposal, as well as a medical enterprise zone in Plainfield.

Resident Dottie Gutenkauf called for an audit of Solaris finances, describing its relation to Muhlenberg as “corporate raiding.”

Attorney Bennet Zurofsky said the certificate of need process is not normally used for closing a hospital, adding, “CN doesn’t mean corporate need, it means community need.”

Activist Flor Gonzalez said her son was born at Muhlenberg and had served in Iraq. She questioned how there could be billions for war and not enough money to keep Muhlenberg open.

Carmen Salavarietta, a Plainfield Health Center board member, said 800 children with asthma will be in danger if Muhlenberg closes. She stated bluntly, “Solaris lied to you and all the papers.”

Josef Gutenkauf drew cheers when he refused to give in to the three-minute limit. He compared the hospital closing to the Dreyfus affair, saying, “This case was decided before it went to trial.”

Jeff Scheckner of United Way gave figures on the impact the closing will have on 13 communities, affecting 154,000 people.

Several doctors testified, including Dr. Harold Yood, an 88-year Plainfield resident and past president of Muhlenberg’s medical staff. Yood said the transfer of assets “produced a shell out of what was once one of the best hospitals in New Jersey” and called for postponement of the closing “until the facts are verified.”

Protesters will hold a forum at 6 p.m. tonight in the Plainfield Public Library and will rally again at the State House in Trenton Thursday. A mass meeting will be held Monday at DuCret School of the Arts and a noon “March and Rally to Save Muhlenberg” will be held May 17, starting at Park Avenue and East Front Street.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Citizen response was outstanding. However, the politicians words are of little solace! Where was their voice when the deal was struck to close Muhlenberg Hospital. Assemblyman Green has much to answer for. If anyone thinks that he was not brought into the decesion making that resulted in the closing of the hospital, they are nieve.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

perhaps it's time the state reviewed Solaris' non-profit status.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the respondent who spoke about Jerry Green needing to answer to the citizens, remember the citizens must also speak for themselves.

The June 3 primary is a great starting point to make your voice heard for a new Plainfield.

6:25 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home