Muhlenberg Closing Prompts Outcry
Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, an institution for 130 years, is slated to close officially on Wednesday, although activists have tracked evidence of shutting down for the past several weeks.
On Monday (Aug. 11, 2008), Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs told the City Council and public that she held a conference call with state Health Commissioner Heather Howard about a possible buyer for the hospital, which provided acute care for about a dozen Central Jersey communities before the closing. Robinson-Briggs called the talk “quite thrilling” and said the city will be asking for a 60-day stay of the closing. The mayor said three investors will be talking to Howard on Tuesday and Howard will be visiting Plainfield this week.
The council discussed two resolutions Monday, one to establish a three-member committee to serve as liaisons to all existing Muhlenberg groups and another to make seven requests to Howard for information on topics such as what services will be available in the emergency room, hours and capacity of proposed shuttle service, expanded ambulance service and disposition of Muhlenberg Foundation funds.
Both resolutions will be voted on at the regular council meeting next Monday at 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.
As the meeting proceeded, about 30 members of the Muhlenberg activist group filed in to City Hall Library. The protesters have been meeting every Monday for months, and that was one of their complaints.
“I’m so happy that you have come out from under your rock,” activist Gayle Jones told the council, noting the group has been presenting evidence since February of a plan by parent company Solaris to close Muhlenberg.
“All of you have just decided to ignore us,” Jones said.
Activist Nancy Piwowar named a multitude of unresolved issues related to the closing, including how endowments would be handled.
Protester Brenda Gilbert told the council, “I’m disappointed in you all. We came to you many times and you set silent.”
Gilbert banged on the council table and citing disrespect to the grassroots committee, asked the council members, “How can you sleep at night?”
Latin American Coalition President Flor Gonzalez claimed that Latino beating victims were taken to JFK Medical Center in Edison since the diverting of patients took place, but were only given aspirin and sent home. Gonzalez said she had to seek help for the victims at other hospitals.
Community activist Dottie Gutenkauf said an Alcoholics Anonymous group that met at Muhlenberg sought direction on the closing, but was given notice only on Friday, Aug. 10 that the program had to relocate after the regular meeting on the following Sunday. Gutenkauf called it an incident of “disrespect and disregard.”
Even though the new council committee will only be approved Monday, members plan to meet Thursday to discuss the crisis. As reported in the print media, patients will face emergency ambulance rides to remote hospitals that will be triple or quadruple the time it used to take to reach Muhlenberg. Activists say the prolonged time will result in needless deaths.