Friday, March 07, 2008

Muhlenberg - Courier - Mayor: Status dire but hopeful

Published in the Courier News, Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mayor reports Muhlenberg status dire but hopeful

I want to address Plainfield about a very important issue, Muhlenberg Medical Center.

First, I am compelled to address the leadership of the Courier News on behalf of the people of Plainfield.

Courier writers, please note that the Plainfield readership has the absolute right to be informed by your paper when their mayor is in attendance, is an active participant and when an address is made on behalf of the residents, employees, business owners and all interested parties, specifically involving our quality of life.

As an instrument of the news that is also an official newspaper for the City of Plainfield, it is your obligation to be inclusive and respectful of the Office of the Mayor, City Administration and City Council. This level of respect should also be extended to Assemblyman Green and Assemblywoman Stender, if they are in attendance at an event in Plainfield, as they serve the 22nd Legislative District which includes Plainfield.

In reading your article in the Sunday, March 2, 2008 newspaper about Muhlenberg, your writer missed an opportunity to inform the people of the comments of their steady supporter, their mayor. For those who know me, they know that my comments are not about "seeing my name in a newspaper." I am always very proud to support my community and my people, and the community frequently lets me know how pleased they are to see me "everywhere." Rather, the important point that I am making at this time is the desire for the people of Plainfield to regularly be informed when I am advocating on their behalf, to protect their rights.

Last week, when I learned of the scheduled Muhlenberg rally, the event was placed on my calendar, as I felt that it was important to provide a factual account of the city's position as it relates to the status of Muhlenberg. Subsequent to making that decision, my office received calls inquiring about the city's position and whether the Plainfield mayor would be at the rally. Many people came out who wanted to know the city's position. As mayor, I provided the information, but it was omitted from the article. I extend my thanks for the comments and the photos that you did print. Those are views that are also very important. Again, as mayor, just as mayors of other communities, as the representative of the people of Plainfield, my comments should have been included.

On another note, I am respectfully renewing my request to you to please be proactive and remember to print "positive" stories about events and achievements which occur in Plainfield. I feel very comfortable in informing you that my request is a mirror request of many people who love Plainfield. It's our home, our place of employment, where we have youngsters who attend school and folks who own businesses. This request is made on behalf of the Democrats, Republicans, Independents, all genders, personal preferences, nationalities, all religions, residents, employees, business owners, educators, veterans, parents, grandparents and guardians, young people, senior citizens, those representing all economic levels and all walks of life.

We all want to read in your newspaper about the good things that occur in Plainfield. We are a thriving, diverse, friendly community with lots to offer. Our media department is pleased to provide you with information for at least three positive weekly stories.

We know that the Courier enjoys coming into Plainfield and reporting on our Queen City. We appreciate your hard work. Please merely accept this as a friendly reminder that if we work together, we can be successful on a huge common goal -- keeping Plainfield properly informed about important issues.

Here's an update regarding a very important issue for the City of Plainfield -- Muhlenberg Medical Center and its status.

On Saturday, March 1, 2008, after attending a funeral in Metuchen, I hurried back to Plainfield to attend the Muhlenberg rally. I express my humble thanks to the hundreds of caring people who I had an opportunity to march and chant with and speak with as we braved the cold, because our collective voices needed to be heard about the dire need for the full services of Muhlenberg to remain in full force.

Many to thank for hospital rally

Thank you to Steve Hatcher, Dr. Cofield, Joan, Larry, Dottie and Joe and the members of POP (Peoples Organization for Progress) for hosting the rally. Thanks to Assemblyman Green, Assemblywoman Stender, Council President Gibson and members of the council for attending. Thanks also to the Plainfield Area NAACP (Pete, Johnny, Larry, Barbara and others), Bishop and Mrs. Benbow and all clergy, Marie and members of the Pemberton Area Block Association and other block associations represented, our youth and many senior citizens, Latino leadership, members of the Frontiers International, various city employees, including our media department, police division, fire department, OEM, city clerk's office, public works and others, various local organization representatives, chamber of commerce members, SID members, educators, business owners, Union County representatives, Plainfielders, friends of Plainfield and representatives of other communities.

Thank you to the Courier News, the Star Ledger, all media and News 12 for being in attendance. Last but not least, thank you to the physicians, nurses, staff members and volunteers of Muhlenberg Medical Center. Thank you to everyone who came out to show their dedication, unification and simply for coming together to fight collectively for what we feel is rightfully ours and the need to voice our opinions and concerns about Muhlenberg remaining as a full-service hospital. Our health cannot come with a price tag. If we do not have a system of good, available managed health care, we have nothing.

Muhlenberg is Plainfield's largest hub and Plainfield's largest employer, employing roughly 1,100 people, many of whom reside in the City of Plainfield. Closing and/or downsizing this facility will hurt many people. Not just the residents of Plainfield, but also people in surrounding communities, such as Scotch Plains, Fanwood, North Plainfield, South Plainfield, Dunellen, Piscataway and even the folks who have been coming from Perth Amboy.

Also, besides having a devastating impact on our ability to offer specific types of medical care to prospective patients, downsizing could result in families being hurt, as some employees will probably be laid off. Those being laid off could possibly end up with no health-care insurance and also an inability to pay their rent or mortgages. If people no longer have health insurance or jobs, they will have to be treated in an emergency room, without a means of payment.

Further, if people are unemployed and can't pay their rents or mortgages, they would have an inability to pay property taxes, which would have a negative effect on the communities where they reside. This total scenario is frightening, as it can have a negative impact in so many ways.

Last year, hospital representatives informed me and Assemblyman Green that Muhlenberg was in a financial situation. In October, the hospital had a $17-million charity care bill, and the State of New Jersey at that time had reimbursed them in the amount of $7 million that resulted in a $10- million deficit for the hospital. Assemblyman Green, Assemblywoman Stender, myself and many hospital representatives traveled to Trenton to meet with New Jersey State representatives. We expressed our strong support to have the hospital remain open, on behalf of the people of Plainfield and the many other communities that it serves.

The state agreed to advance roughly $4.5 million of charity care funds. That helped for a short period of time, but the funds allocated still left a deficit. Unfortunately, there are many people who are currently uninsured in this country, and specifically in this area, who have no choice but to use emergency rooms as a private care facility, then apply for charity care to request the state to pay for the medical services rendered. This is what happened with Muhlenberg Medical Center.

Recently, Gov. Corzine met with the mayors of Union County. The main purpose was to discuss the state budget and the possibility of raising toll rates. The mayors had an opportunity to discuss their issues. I chose to discuss two issues as they pertain to Plainfield -- money for our school district (whether taxpayers would ultimately have to absorb some of the school funding per the new school formula) and the status of Muhlenberg.

Looking for funds to keep Muhlenberg open

I asked if we "could keep the hospital?" I told him that I needed to be able to report to the people of Plainfield. He told me that last year we closed five hospitals and this year we would close four hospitals. Regarding Muhlenberg, Gov. Corzine said that although he could not make any guarantees, he wanted us to know that he was doing whatever he could to help keep the doors of Muhlenberg open.

I know that the State of New Jersey is financially in debt, and that some drastic cuts have to be made, and that our governor has to make some really tough decisions, but somehow, the funds must be found to keep the doors of Muhlenberg open.

Going forward, Assemblyman Green and I will meet this week with several hospitals, and we have formed a task force to provide review. The City of Plainfield has had meetings with various groups that provide medical assistance, to see if they can merge with the hospital, offer their services from the hospital location and provide some of their funding sources to the hospital. There is another idea which will be discussed with some other stakeholders which involves shared services.

My understanding is that it will take the hospital roughly six months to complete its downsizing. Plainfield and surrounding communities, that gives us several months to complete our review of this situation, financial and otherwise, and to keep working together on this very important issue. Muhlenberg is privately owned, and if there are any serious entities wishing to purchase it and maintain it as a full-scale hospital, please contact hospital officials immediately.

How can residents and past patients help? Please write a positive letter of support for Muhlenberg, and mail it to my office: Office of the Mayor, Mayor Sharon M. Robinson-Briggs, Plainfield City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave., Plainfield, NJ 07060. Kindly forward your letters to my office by March 15. I hope to receive thousands of letters, as I will share them with our legislators.

Hopefully, with your help, funding sources will be made available. Thank you in advance for your commitment and desire to work together to help save Muhlenberg and to ultimately save lives. I love you and support you.

Sharon M. Robinson-Briggs is mayor of Plainfield.


Why is it being forced to close when it's part of the Solaris Healthcare System? Yeah yeah, the state is cutting back, hospitals statewide are taking a huge hit. Is somebody mishandling money? Are they using the profits from the hospital to go on all expense paid "business meetings"? Why isn't JFK (Muhlenberg's counterpart) Closing? How much was the CEO and VP making? I mean really - let's be fair, this hospital does not need to be closed. People ought to just cut back their spending and focus on patient satisfaction.

If Muhlenberg were run by the right people, regardless of how much the state has cut funds, our fellow residents would not be losing our beloved Muhlenberg. I can't believe that it has come to this and I'm furious!! My 2 sisters are out of jobs, and I bet you that they're still spending and abusing hospital funds. I think all NJ hospitals should be under federal scrutiny and review. Where is the money Muhlenberg? What happened to it!!! I don't buy this story for a minute that medicare, medicaid and state funding is the real reason it's closing. I think it's the Board of Directors fault. Twisted Evil Evil or Very Mad Twisted Evil

Posted: Thu Mar 06, 2008 2:43 pm

Kudos to the Mayor and her team for making an effort to address an almost untenable situation. The fact of the matter is that Muhlenbergs demise is a combination of the effects of changing local demographics and cuts by the feds to charity care programs.

The mayor is but one person and not a magician... however this situation makes her an easy scapegoat for people who always want to high light the problems and never acknowledge the efforts that are made.

Everyone has criticisms , but I don't see anyone stepping up to the plate with any real solutions. I don;t know how Mayor Briggs has managed to operate with all her actions being scrutinized under a public microscope... something no other Mayor has had to deal with.
The information age has its benefits and its drawbacks, and some people just abuse it.
If the Courier News wants to be acknowledged as an unbiased voice for local news then they should report the good as well as the bad. Good for you for standing up for your self and for plainfield - Mayor Briggs!

Posted: Thu Mar 06, 2008 12:11 pm

I read this letter twice and all I can say is Where is the report?

I am so glad the newspaper published this letter as evidence to all of our "leadership" in Plainfield.

We are paying exhorbitant taxes and this is all she has to say? Reprimending the newspapers for a job that is suppossed to be done by an incompetent, and very expensive, PR and Community Relations Department?

Where is her concern for the community when she keeps two body guards (never mind that are the same ones that campaigned for her) at her side 24/7?

Where is her long term plan to keep avoiding loses? Where is her plan to support businesses and taxpayers? Is begging the State for more money all she can do?

She says she is concerned with the school, well, she was a member of the Board until she was pulled by the Democratic Party to be "the mayor". I want one, only one, good thing that she did for the schools.

3 years into her administration and not even a working city website. Is that "leadership" and "concern" for her taxpayers and constituents?

Yes, CN. Why don't you report more on her so people can see for themselves what kind of fiasco we have for Mayor.

It's not the closure of Muhlenberg that will run people out of Plainfield, it's her and the council's lack of leadership that will.

I challenge more people to speak up their minds here.

Posted: Thu Mar 06, 2008 7:44 am

Online story here. Archived here.

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About Me

Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.