Bankrupt hospital hopes changes will ward off closure

5 10 2009

Bankrupt St. Mary’s Hospital in Passaic is hoping to revitalize itself by offering a speedier emergency room and other services to make it more marketable, officials said. The fast-track ER, which promises to treat and discharge some patients in an hour or less opened Monday. St. Mary’s has also expanded its infusion and chemotherapy center and brought in a specialized wound care nursing team as well as a new team of emergency medicine specialists and “hospitalist” doctors trained to care for hospitalized patients. The Home Depot company even spruced up the hospital’s landscaping by donating and installing $5,000 in cherry trees, mums, mulch and other plantings.

St. Mary’s, which was $100 million in debt when it declared bankruptcy in March, is making these changes in hopes it will recover financially and keep it from shutting down, as so many troubled hospitals in New Jersey have done in the past decade.

The new ER unit is part of the hospital’s “turn-around strategy, one of the many examples of how much healthier St. Mary’s is getting,” said Michael J. Sniffen, who tool over as the hospital’s president and chief executive officer in June.

The fast-track system for patients with non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses features five private exam and treatment rooms, including one for pediatric patients. Its $300,000 cost was financed by donations as well as golf tournaments and other fund-raising events,

The new ER system is “vital to the safety and health of the community” and the hospital, which handles 35,000 emergency department patients each year, Sniffen said.

“In a city with only one hospital, having a top-notch emergency room is a matter of life and death,” Sniffen said Monday.

About 50 hospital staffers and local officials lined the crowded hallway of the new facility for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the emergency unit Monday morning.

“I’m very impressed with your commitment to the community,” said state Health Commissioner Heather Howard, who attended the event.

St. Mary’s, she said, has been through “an admittedly very difficult time,” since the 292-bed hospital took over PBI Regional Medical Center at 350 Boulevard in 2006, and became the sole survivor of three hospitals in Passaic.

St. Mary’s received $45 million in state funds to help finance the acquisition of PBI. But it’s financial struggles forced it to declare bankruptcy in March.

“Three years ago, having no hospital in Passaic was a very real possibility,” Howard said. The state government is “forming a unique partnership to save the hospital. Governor Corzine wanted me to convey his support.”

“St. Mary’s has a very special place in my heart and Governor Corzine’s,” Howard said.

Despite the new programs, the hospital continues to struggle.

St. Mary’s, which lost $21 million last year, faces a Wednesday deadline in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Newark to provide a plan for its sale or reorganization or ask the court for an extension.

The hospital projects a loss of $4 million to $5 million through the end of 2009, said Vanessa Warner, a spokeswoman. There are also $30 million in claims filed against the hospital by a committee of unsecured creditors, said Brett Moore, a Morristown attorney who represents them.

Meanwhile, the hospital is negotiating changes in its collective bargaining contract with 480 unionized nurses and technicians of JNESO, who agreed last summer to accept salary cuts and other concessions until Oct. 16.

Talks with unionized employees have “made some progress, but we’re not there yet,” Sniffen said.

St. Mary’s finished accepting bids Monday for its former psychiatric facility at 211 Pennington Avenue, which the hospital will auction on Oct. 15. Although 211 Pennington has a $2.75-million lien against it, Sniffen expects people to bid on the property. “We hope it’s worth a lot of money,” he said.

St. Mary’s, which is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, can survive, but it needs outside help, Sniffen said in a recent interview.




One response

7 10 2009

Reb Shlomah, where have you been? I wish I could take vacation for 3 Months at a time.

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