BY MARY JO LAYTON
STAFF WRITER |
With a year to go before the contract with the operators of Bergen Regional Medical Center expires, county officials are weighing several options for the institution. That decision will affect tens of thousands of patients, renew scrutiny of the for-profit company that runs the hospital, and affect regional health care for decades.
The 19-year contract between the company that runs the Paramus hospital, Bergen Regional Medical Center LP, and the Bergen County Improvement Authority, is set to expire in March 2017.
Lawmakers, several county officials and others say it’s time for a change.
Critics complain the agreement has shortchanged patients and taxpayers and allowed a for-profit company to skirt millions in repairs while reaping substantial profits from the county-owned hospital.
“This was never a good deal for the people of Bergen County,” said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck.
There’s much more at stake than drafting a new agreement.
Experts say it’s essential to preserve Bergen Regional — a linchpin in New Jersey’s fragile mental health system as more psychiatric facilities close and other hospitals cut or eliminate unprofitable mental health units. The hospital’s services are needed more than ever for seniors, addicts and even children.
“Although it’s a county facility, Bergen Regional is crucial to the entire state mental health system,” said Phil Lubitz, associate director of the National Alliance on Mental Health of New Jersey.
In the next several months, county officials will consider fundamental questions: Should the hospital continue providing psychiatric, long-term and acute services? Is it wise to have a for-profit operator continue to manage the county’s facility? Are staffing and equipment adequate? Should Bergen County invest capital in a hospital that serves so many patients who don’t live in the county?