A dozen hospitals statewide to receive $129 million more in state, federal funding

LILO H. STAINTON, HEALTH CARE WRITER | JULY 11, 2022

NJ Spotlight News

 

A ventilation system designed to contain infection at a Union County hospital. A new satellite emergency department in Trenton. A family health center in the New Brunswick area. Workforce development and pediatric mental health programs in South Jersey.

Twelve New Jersey hospital systems will receive $129 million in public funding for these projects and others through the budget deal crafted in late June by Gov. Phil Murphy and top legislators, all Democrats. State officials said the investments are important to help protect public health, but it is not clear how these projects were picked for funding, much of it destined for hospitals in Democratic legislative districts. Hospitals will also share about $815 million in formula aid to pay for uninsured patients and train medical students, plus tens of millions to staff and run medical schools.

The state Department of Health, which licenses hospitals and will distribute the funds, said little about the process used to identify which initiatives would receive support — a mix of state and federal dollars. And the New Jersey Hospital Association, which represents the state’s 71 acute-care facilities, declined to comment.

“Hospitals continue to play an important role in combating threats to public health and keeping residents healthy. The funding was added in partnership with the Legislature as they put together their budget based on the priorities and needs of New Jersey’s communities,” said Nancy Kearney, deputy communications director for the state Department of Health.

Billions in extra state tax revenue, federal pandemic aid

The hospital projects involve a small fraction of the billions in extra tax revenue and leftover federal pandemic aid that Murphy and Democratic leaders divvied up with little public input when they finalized the state’s $50.6 billion annual spending plan, which took effect July 1. Through these negotiations, they allocated more than $2 billion in federal funds for infrastructure, health care investments and social welfare programs.

Murphy and top lawmakers also added $2.3 billion to the governor’s original budget proposal for extra property tax relief, infrastructure work, public-worker pensions, community organizations and more parochial projects, like a statue of “Jersey” Joe Walcott, a pro boxer and onetime sheriff in Camden County. An NJ Spotlight analysis of this type of added spending on pet projects over five years found close to 95 cents out of every $1 went to legislative districts controlled by Democrats.

New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank, and other good-government advocates have repeatedly raised concerns about this tradition, which consolidates decision-making power with a handful of people, almost all of them white men.

Republicans prioritize tax relief

Republicans have also been quick to criticize the budget process, saying more should have been dedicated to tax relief. “Sadly, Democrats opted for huge increases in pork spending and the establishment of massive slush funds that will do nothing to help New Jersey families suffering today from high gas prices, soaring inflation, and property taxes,” Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said after Murphy signed the budget.

But Gina Wilder, spokesperson for the state Assembly Democrats, said the caucus was “proud to support a budget” that included these important one-time investments in New Jersey’s health care system. “Our hospitals have long risen to the occasion, most admirably and notably, when they weathered numerous waves of COVID these past two years. These investments are timely and will improve access and functionality for both patients and hospital employees alike,” Wilder said. A representative for the Senate Democrats did not respond to a request for comment.

Under the new budget, New Jersey hospitals will also share $339 million — half state, half federal — to offset uncompensated care costs, distributed through a complex formula based on the number of uninsured people each facility treats. A quality improvement program provides $210 million, a mix of state and federal money, to reward facilities for improvements and innovations. And $218 million in graduate medical education dollars — one-third state, two-thirds federal — is available for 42 teaching hospitals while 14 of these facilities, serving the poorest communities, share an additional $24 million. Another $24 million supports the four state-run psychiatric hospitals and at least $13 million for cancer programs.

While the formulas and some fund names have evolved — and the need for public funding has shrunk as more people gained coverage through the federal Affordable Care Act — these resources have been in place here for decades. In recent years, hospitals and nursing homes nationwide have also received billions in pandemic relief directly from the federal government.

Atlantic Health, Hackensack Meridian and University Hospital

The additional funding in the new state budget is allocated to 17 projects. These range from $250,000 for unnamed work at Jersey Shore University Medical Center — a Neptune hospital that is part of the state’s largest hospital system, Hackensack Meridian Health — to $35 million for emergency department renovations at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, part of the Atlantic Health System, another large hospital chain. Hackensack Meridian will also receive $7 million for its Bergen County medical school, a line item that has held steady for several years and is shared in a pool of $500 million that lawmakers provide to the state’s four Level 1 trauma unit hospitals. University Hospital in Newark, the state’s only public acute-care facility, will also receive a slice of that trauma unit money and tens of millions more for operations and graduate education costs, although advocates believe the state should provide it more money given its historic civic mission and critical infrastructure needs.

Stephanie Schwartz, president of Overlook, said the hospital is extremely grateful for the additional funding. “As a leader in neuroscience and many other specialties, Overlook Medical Center has become a sought-after destination for world-class quality care by patients from throughout New Jersey — and this has never been more true than throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said, noting that Union County was particularly hard hit by the virus, leading to a large influx of patients from the neighboring communities and beyond. “The lessons we learned throughout this event are now guiding the transformation of Overlook, and this funding will greatly support those efforts.”

Schwartz said Overlook is using some of this money to fund “ongoing enhancements” to the hospital’s pediatric and adult emergency departments, with a new ventilation system that enables staff to safely “isolate” a patient by reversing the air flow in the room, reducing the likelihood that disease will spread. This work will “ensure safety for the tens of thousands of patients who arrive at our doors for emergency care each year,” she said.

RWJBarnabas investments in Newark

RWJBarnabas Health, the state’s second-largest hospital system, is slated to get a total of $37 million for multiple projects, including $2 million for scholarships at local nursing colleges to help ease chronic workforce shortages. Another $5.3 million will benefit the Newark Emergency Medical Service, which played a critical role in triaging and moving patients during the height of the pandemic, and $4.7 million will be used to improve services at its blood-testing labs, create three new school-based health programs in Jersey City, expand patient access to legal services and support a food pantry program in Newark, RWJBarnabas Health spokesperson Carrie Cristello said.

The investments will also build on work RWJBarnabas has done in Newark over the years. Cristello said a $25 million line item earmarked in the budget for its “Newark projects” will fund multiple initiatives to improve the community’s health, improve access to health care and reduce disparities in clinical outcomes linked to social factors like housing, education and violence. “Specifically, these funds will be used to improve infrastructure and telehealth capabilities, expand clinical technology to increase access to primary and specialty care, and invest in local programs to improve health equity and outcomes,” she said.

Cooper focuses on mental health, disabilities

Cooper University Health, a South Jersey medical system based in Camden, was allocated $15 million for a handful of projects, including $3 million to expand mental health services for children and $2 million to create a model of care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Another $5 million was provided for work at Salem Medical Center, which is staffed by Cooper physicians, and $5 million would go to the Ronald McDonald House program in Southern New Jersey, which provides lodging in Camden for families whose children are receiving cancer treatment nearby.

Wendy Marano, a spokeswoman for Cooper University Health, said Friday that the system did not have any further details on the projects at this time. Cooper is also slated to receive nearly $79 million to support and run medical education programs in conjunction with Rowan University.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-07-11 02:30:39 -0700