Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Muhlenberg - Courier - Green calls for freeze on Solaris bonds

Published in the Courier News, Tuesday, August 26, 2008

August 25, 2008

Assemblyman calls for freeze on funds
for Solaris upgrades at JFK Medical Center


State Assemblyman Jerry Green will ask the state Department of Health and Senior Services to put a hold on possible approval of nearly $170 million in bonds for Solaris Health System, the nonprofit parent company of the recently-closed Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield and JFK Medical Center in Edison.

It was first reported nearly three weeks ago that Solaris had requested a $169 million bond issue to pay for expansions and renovations at JFK and to refinance the debt of the two hospitals.

Green. D-22nd Dist., said he will ask that those funds be put in limbo until specific grievances regarding Muhlenberg's closure are directly addressed by the state.

"This is no longer people hollering that "I want to see Muhlenberg stay open,' " Green said yesterday. "Now the argument from the people in the community is...that they support the (Department of Health) Commissioner (Heather Howard) and the treasurer not moving forward with this bond issue until they get some questions answered."

State Department of Health and Senior Services spokesperson Dawn Thomas confirmed yesterday that Howard and state officials had scheduled a meeting with Green for Sept. 3 in Trenton, but would not comment on the nature of the meeting.

Solaris' bond request was originally scheduled to go before the New Jersey Health Care Facilities Financing Authority in Trenton on Thursday, Aug. 28, but company spokesman Steven Weiss said yesterday the date has been pushed back to sometime in September.

Green outlined a number of issues his task force planned to discuss with the commissioner, including a claim that state-mandated transportation service to other area hospitals offered to Plainfield residents by Solaris does not currently meet the department's standards and the fact that the company has refused to publicly release an asking price for prospective buyers of the 131-year-old hospital.

Another issue Green said he planned to discuss with state health officials is the existence of a potential buyer for Muhlenberg who has claimed massive delays in arranging a tour of the Plainfield campus. A person from within DBR Healthcare, a Philadelphia-based coalition of investors, said earlier this month that his group had been attempting to arrange an evaluation of the hospital grounds since April, but only received approval the Thursday before the hospital's closure.

Green said he is also seeking detailed documentation of Solaris' financial records, ranging from a 10-year revenue report down to a list of all the assets and property on the Plainfield campus and how much is owed on each by the company.

"The community needs to know, because over the last 130 years, the community has not only used this facility, but donated money to it," Green said. "We need to get a clear picture of exactly what Solaris paid for the property, but also what they owe on the property...they're asking the state to back these bonds, so there should be the ability for the state to ask these questions."

In response to the assemblyman's statements, Weiss claimed that Solaris' transportation services to the Plainfield community not only meet the state's requirements, but that the state has already confirmed as much.

"The Department of Health has sent people to look at our transportation to make sure we are meeting the requirements of the certificate of need (for closure)," Weiss said, "and they have been pleased with our efforts to not only comply, but exceed."

Weiss also said that Solaris is annually audited by a private firm and that the information stemming from those audits is available to the public on the company's Web site.

In response to Green's statement that the public is interested in knowing what collateral the company plans to offer in seeking approval of its loan, Weiss said that a working group will discuss the matter this week.

But Weiss said his company was not yet prepared to discuss what, if any, parts of the 17-acre Plainfield campus are currently up for sale, or to publicly issue any specific asking price.

"Solaris won't speculate on the price or the use of the campus in the future when, right now, we are putting all of our efforts into satisfying and exceeding the conditions set forth in the certificate of need (approval)," Weiss said. "The bottom line is, we're not there yet."

Solaris' original bond request called for $22.2 million in capital improvements, while the rest would go toward debt restructuring. The largest chunk of capital-improvement money was to go toward 59 additional inpatient beds at JFK, with other funds being used to expand the emergency room and renovate the cardiac catheterization lab and hyperbaric wound center.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who said Muhlenberg would be a key topic of discussion for a community forum to be held at 6:30 tonight by the city at Washington Community School, said the assemblyman has the city's support regarding his planned meeting with state officials.

"I'll tell you, this is a mutual request," Robinson-Briggs said yesterday regarding Green's stance. "We also want the state to please hold back on giving this loan to Solaris."

Mark Spivey can be reached at mspivey@mycentraljersey.com or 908-707-3144


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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.