Thursday, April 24, 2008

Muhlenberg - Courier - Editorial: Supporters offer lesson in hope

Published in the Courier News, Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Muhlenberg supporters offer lesson in hope

Community support for Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center may be -- in fact probably will be -- too little too late to keep the hospital from closing.

Still, there's something inspiring in the resiliency of advocates who, despite long odds, are refusing to accept what appears to be unavoidable, and continue to cling to the hope that something may yet save Muhlenberg.

And they're not basing their hopes entirely on wishful thinking. They're attempting to turn their desires into action. The latest gambit is a citizens' group effort to raise $100 million -- at $20 a pop -- to buy Muhlenberg. During the latest rally on behalf of the hospital Saturday in Plainfield, or ganizers were pitching $20 shares and selling T-shirts to promote the cause.

The "Buy Muhlenberg" movement may sound like the wildest of dreams. But it is, if nothing else, a sign of how much the hospital means to the community.

The announcement that Solaris Health Systems, which runs Muhlenberg, intended to close the hospital because of ongoing and escalating financial losses generated a powerful emotional reaction, seemingly equal parts dismay and anger. Much of the outrage has been directed at Solaris and its perceived unwillingness to explore avenues that might keep the hospital operating. And state health officials seem almost anxious to accept the closure plan, having already conceded that some hospital closings across the state are not only inevitable, but beneficial.

Despite the difficult realities of running a hospital in New Jersey these days, however, community activists continue to suggest that there are viable alternatives if the powers that be look hard enough, that willing buyers are out there. They specifically cite inquiries from a group that specializes in taking over distressed hospitals.

And if they can raise $100 million and Solaris won't sell? Grassroots leaders say they'll ask the state to open up their own hospital.

If Muhlenberg does close, as expected, the practical benefits of the effort to save it may be in convincing community and health officials to take extra steps to help would-be patients who must seek medical care elsewhere once the hospital shuts its doors.

But we'd also like to think advocates are providing us with a worthy lesson in perseverance. "You never stop trying," Plainfield resident Rose Marie Cathcart said during Saturday's rally. "You keep believing, and always have hope and faith that maybe something will change."
Even if Muhlenberg Hospital closes despite a last-ditch, grass-roots effort to keep it open, community support shows health officials how much vital care is needed to fill the gap the facility leaves.

Online story here. Archived here.

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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.