[Muhlenberg – Schools]
School planned for Muhlenberg site
By CHAD WEIHRAUCH, Staff Writer
Published in the Courier News on Sunday, December 14, 2003
PLAINFIELD -- Details slowly are emerging on a $60 million plan that would place an elementary school on the grounds of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center.
Assemblyman Jerry Green, D-Plainfield, said he is still negotiating with the state to deliver the funds, but said the package would swing money to both the district -- which needs a new school -- and the financially ailing hospital.
"This is needed," Green said. "Right now Muhlenberg is losing six to eight million (dollars) a year."
One of the primary reasons the hospital struggles to survive, Green added, is that it treats a high number of illegal immigrants and the state will not reimburse Muhlenberg for the money it spends on those patients.
Meant primarily to upgrade equipment at the medical center, Green said the funds would be earmarked for current facilities and services, and perhaps could help the hospital back away from efforts to secure permission for a regional cardiac surgery center."The reality is that may not happen," he said, adding that he is "also hoping that we can get the (state) Department of Health to partner up Muhlenberg with one of the hospitals that do offer open-heart surgery."
Muhlenberg is one of three Central Jersey hospitals seeking state permission for the cardiac unit, along with Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth and Somerset Medical Center in Somerville.
Green said keeping Muhlenberg open and viable is the No. 1 priority.
"The money is a pressing need right now," he said. "Even the $60 million is not going to bail them out."
Mark Hendrickson, a spokesman for the medical center's parent company, Solaris Health System, said he could offer no specifics on the elementary school plan, adding that it has "been on the table since late summer."
"We always look for ways, obviously, to bring the best health care to residents, so we're always open to looking at other options," he said.
Hendrickson said he was unaware of any connection between the elementary school plan and Muhlenberg's cardiac unit bid.
Exact details of the school proposal remain unclear, though Green said it's probable that the hospital would construct a parking deck to clear space for the school.
"This would be a home run for the city because we wouldn't have to take any property off the tax rolls to build a new elementary school," he said.
Chad Weihrauch can be reached at (908) 707-3137 or firstname.lastname@example.org