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>Wildes: Ensuring stable health care for our region

>Wildes: Ensuring stable health care for our region
Friday, November 28, 2008

To build a new facility at the site of the former Pascack Valley Hospital would be a mistake, one that could end up providing worse – not better – care for local residents.

AS MAYOR of Englewood, I strive continuously to ensure that my constituents receive quality services and care in all areas of life here in Bergen County. There is no area where quality is more important than in health care, and for the people of Englewood, having a hospital in our city provides a valuable facility for everyone in our community.

However, as a mayor with a hospital in my community, I can’t limit my concern to what it means to the people of Englewood. I have to look at what it means to the people who come from other parts of Bergen County. Englewood Hospital and Medical Center serves people from all over Bergen County and the financial strength of the hospital is critical to people in our neighboring towns and to Bergen County as a whole.

According to the January 2008 Final Report of the New Jersey Commission on Rationalizing Health Care Resources (also known as the Reinhardt Commission), New Jersey faces an oversupply of hospital beds, a problem that is particularly concentrated in the Hackensack-Ridgewood-Paterson area.

In part because of this oversupply, Pascack Valley Hospital suffered from low occupancy rates, filed for bankruptcy and ultimately closed in November 2007.

Upon Pascack Valley Hospital’s closing, all the hospitals in Bergen County experienced an increase in their respective occupancy rates. This increase confirmed that there had been too many acute care beds in Bergen County. But, more importantly, this change represents progress for the people in the region, as numerous studies, including one by Dr. Elliott Fisher at Dartmouth University, have shown that having an oversupply of acute care beds actually can have the effect of worsening health care.

A mistake

That’s why I believe that Hackensack University Medical Center and its for-profit Texas-based partner, Legacy Hospital Partners, should not be allowed to open a new acute care facility on the former Pascack Valley Hospital site in Westwood.

To open this facility would be a mistake, one that could end up providing worse – not better – care for local residents.

Make no mistake: Having more emergency facilities in the region is never harmful, and in this case would be a welcome addition to the region. It’s when you add the infrastructure of an acute care facility, complete with all of the administration, overhead and equipment required, that resources become redundant and health care quality can be compromised.

Recently, one of my colleagues asserted that the closing of Pascack Valley Hospital was a devastating financial loss to the town of Westwood, both in terms of commerce and jobs lost.

As a fellow mayor, I certainly understand the challenges that take place when a community faces a hospital closing. But I believe it is vital that we not exacerbate those negative effects by starting a new hospital. A new for-profit hospital in the region could destabilize the entire region’s health care system, and could cause additional hospitals to close. We’d be confronting the same issues that Westwood recently experienced, only in a different municipality.

With today’s economic conditions, we cannot afford instability; we must do everything to keep our hospitals, as well as our businesses, stable.

Additionally, the proposed facility is to be a for-profit hospital, and those types of institutions often do not have the interests of the community at heart. The non-profit hospitals in this region invest in the community and are not beholden to out-of-state investors.

Additionally, our local hospitals take all patients – including charity, Medicare and privately insured patients, which I feel is better for the community.

Replacing the old Pascack Valley Hospital with a similar institution runs counter to the Reinhardt report and could undo some of the benefits that the closing of Pascack Valley provided Bergen County’s residents.

Won’t benefit the people

The introduction of new hospital beds at a location where hospital beds were removed less than nine months ago does not seem to benefit the people of this region. There are seven full-service hospitals less than 15 miles from that site.

All the hospitals in Bergen County support the new emergency facility opened by Hackensack Medical Center at the Pascack Valley site. To add a full-service acute care hospital might be detrimental to the care of the region’s residents and could greatly diminish the continued operational effectiveness and quality of northern New Jersey’s hospitals.

The Reinhardt report should be given a chance to work, to show that the public policies in place are correct and that financially stable hospitals are good for all the people of Bergen County, not just Englewood.

Michael J. Wildes, mayor of Englewood, is an immigration attorney and has been an emergency medical technician for more than 15 years.

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