Sale of St. Michael's Medical Center is good for Newark and its residents | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
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on April 05, 2015

Prime Healthcare Services, a California-based company, has offered to buy Saint Michael's Medical Center in Newark


By Esther Bediones

It's no secret that St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark has faced some tough financial times. That's undisputed. But the recently released Navigant Report commissioned by the state unflinchingly recommends that the hospital be closed. It takes a look from the outside in, and it deems our hospital unworthy of existence - without community input or any consideration for the lives that will be affected.

We've seen it before - the reduction in valuable services to the community, the escalation in unemployment in a city that already outpaces the national average and the critical blow that people like me are forced to sustain because a report says that my hospital simply must go.

I've been a nurse at St. Michael's Medical Center for 40 years. That's four decades of my life that I've committed to this city, its residents and this hospital. I serve as the Local President for my union JNESO and I've experienced the devastating impact that a hospital closure has on the Newark community. I know that when a report says "let's close this hospital," we're talking about more than just words on a page - we're talking about the health, safety and livelihood of so many families.

Since 1997, five hospitals that serve Newark and the surrounding communities have closed. Five times people have lost their jobs, families have lost their access to health care and our community has suffered.

In 2008, St. James Hospital closed in the East Ward. Despite 700 members of the Newark community marching in protest, and despite long battles fought by people who knew they deserved access to the quality care they came to expect, the hospital was gone in what seemed to be the blink of an eye. The people of Newark are strong, so we adjusted. Many of my friends and colleagues lost their jobs and many of their patients had to find a new place to seek health care. For some of them, that was truly a challenge because their financial means and access to transportation were limited. But at the end of the day, we survived.

Now we are again faced with a hospital closure in our great city. But this time, things are different. This time there is a buyer interested in purchasing and investing in our hospital. And now we are waiting on the state to approve that purchase.

The potential buyer has not only committed to purchase the hospital, but to invest at least $25 million in capital improvements beyond routine replacements and additions. The buyer has committed to continuing to operate our hospital as an acute care facility, and has done this in spite of the unprecedented length of time that this sale has been in review. This is a buyer who is serious about investing in our community, and we are on the verge of turning them away.

It is unconscionable to think that the people of Newark may endure a further restriction on our access to quality health care; that we may once again lose a hospital because an entity that does not exist in our city recommends it. Especially when we have a company that is actively trying to purchase our hospital to keep it open. The Newark City Council recently passed a resolution supporting the sale - not closure - of our hospital, and the state needs to follow suit.

For nearly 150 years, St. Michael's has served as a safety-net hospital for an at-risk population, many of whom do not have the means to travel to another institution for care. In 2014, the hospital treated 101,000 patients, and the Emergency Department alone saw 36,000. Our hospital has generated more than $5 million in revenue to Newark's local economy, and it has employed more than 1,400 people in good-paying, high-quality jobs.

We are talking about a hospital that is reputable, it is highly utilized and it deserves a chance at success through this sale. The people of Newark do not deserve to be once again stripped of the choice and the access to quality health care that others are not forced to fight for. We should not have to fight for choice. We should not have to fight for our health care.

On behalf of the nearly 500 nurses and licensed professional technicians represented by JNESO at St. Michael's, I urge the state to approve the sale and keep our hospital open.

Esther Bediones, RN, BSN, CCRN, is the St. Michael's Local President for JNESO District Council 1, the health care union representing 5,000 nurses and licensed professional technicians throughout the state, including more than 400 members at the hospital.

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