Thursday, April 24, 2008

Muhlenberg - Courier - OpEd by Board Prez Ron West

Published in the Courier News, Sunday, April 20, 2008 (put online 4/22/2008)

Hospitals are in danger all over state


I am writing as both a resident of the great city of Plainfield for the past 30 years and as the chairman of the Board of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center for the past 12 months. As a resident, I have been a patient at Muhlenberg on more than one occasion, as have my wife and two daughters.

Both of our girls were born at Muhlenberg. I am heartbroken over the thought of losing a hospital that has a 130-year history of taking care of generations of families and serving as a trusted health-care resource.

Muhlenberg has stood the test of time, providing compassionate care, with dedicated employees and innovative clinical services.

The changing health-care landscape has had a devastating effect on Muhlenberg and on every other urban hospital in the state of New Jersey. In Plainfield, with 70 percent of the patient base comprised of Medicare, Medicaid and charity care, it is nearly impossible for a hospital to survive without significant financial support from someplace else.

Over the last 10 years, 18 hospitals have closed and three closures are pending, not as a result of bad management, lack of compassion or poor outcomes. Simply stated, no hospital can continue to provide service when it is reimbursed 40 to 80 cents on every dollar for Medicare, Medicaid and charity care patients. This broken model has caused Muhlenberg to lose $50,000 a day, $1.5 million per month during 2007, and a loss of $20 million projected for 2008.

Over the last 10 years, Muhlenberg has addressed budget shortfalls with an aggressive growth strategy focused on adding clinical service lines like angioplasty, bariatric surgery, colon and rectal services, wound care, and vascular surgery. Also, Muhlenberg committed to process improvements, right-sizing the organization based on census data and many other tactics. All this to grow patient volume, streamline operations, strengthen economic viability and continue to provide the utmost in patient care.

Solaris Health System, the nonprofit parent company of Muhlenberg and JFK Medical Center, has invested $50 million in Muhlenberg over the last 10 years. While our revenue strategy of introducing new service lines was successful and our patient satisfaction scores reached the 90th percentile, revenue generated by 30 percent of the patient population has not been enough to offset the losses of the other 70 percent.

Concurrent with growth initiatives, Solaris and the Muhlenberg Board engaged our elected officials and the New Jersey Department of Health and Social Services to save this hospital. Meetings and tours were held with Assemblyman Jerry Green, Assemblywoman Linda Stender, Senator Nicholas Scutari, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald and other key legislators from both the Senate and the Assembly over the past few years to encourage additional funding for Muhlenberg. Our legislators have met with the governor and the commissioner of Health and Social Services to plead the case for Muhlenberg.

Although Muhlenberg has received more than $10 million in hospital assistance over the last five years, at an average of $2 million per year, this funding is insufficient to cover an $18 million annual shortfall. So, along with state support, the consistent Solaris investments have kept Muhlenberg open and part of our community.

Under the auspices of the Solaris Board, more than 60 nonprofit and for-profit organizations were contacted in an effort to find a buyer for Muhlenberg. To date, no organization has offered a proposal that will keep the hospital open now and in the future. So we must plan to address the health care needs of our community without Muhlenberg.

We face the closure of our beloved hospital, and while the members of our community voice their anger and frustration, as chairman, my role, along with that of the board, is to continue to serve as the community's advocate for continued access to health care. I support the collaborative efforts of the task force that has been formed to unite regional health care providers to insure the continuation of health care access for our community -- health care of the same quality and high standards you have always been provided.

Until the broken system of health care in New Jersey is fixed, more hospitals will face closure, and more communities will be faced with this critical situation.

Ronald West is chairman of the board of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield

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.