Top 2008 Issue: Muhlenberg
Protests began in early 2008 and continued through the year. Rallies here and in Trenton, marches and vigorous objections at two New Jersey State Health Planning Board meetings here were not enough to ward off state Health Commissioner Heather Howard’s decision that the hospital must close.
Attempts to find buyers did not come to fruition in time to prevent the closing. The “Save Muhlenberg” campaign then became the “Restore Muhlenberg” campaign, but challenges to the parent group, Solaris Health System, continue. Elected officials hold out the hope of a salvation, while residents still meet weekly to strategize for a way to be found to reopen an acute care facility in the hospital building. Although now designated as a “campus,” it still has an emergency room and other health care services.
Among the results of the closing, pregnant women are being directed to Elizabeth, to the newly-renamed Trinitas Regional Medical Center. Activists claim the distance has caused harm to both mothers in labor and infants born on the way to Trinitas. Emergency medical personnel are being asked to determine which of several area hospitals is most appropriate for a patient in the ambulance and activists say that families may not be able immediately to known where their loved ones were taken.
The extra minutes of transport to Summit, Edison, Somerville or elsewhere are deemed a threat to heart attack and stroke victims. There are many other complications for those who are chronically ill, as their doctors have dispersed to other sites.
Officials and residents are hoping to hold a health care forum before Dec. 31 in conjunction with a call from the Obama transition team for local discussions of this high priority policy issue. Sen. Tom Daschle, head of the transition’s Health Policy Team will appear in person at one of the nationwide grassroots meetings.
Hospital closings statewide and nationwide have affected millions of people and put lives at risk, activists say. The shrinking access to acute care also means there is less ability to respond to a pandemic or terrorist attack.
As of this writing, no date has been set for a forum and there is no outcome of talks with Solaris regarding appeals to Howard’s decision. As it was in 2008, health care and hospital access will most likely be the top issue in the community.