By Michael Yun, President, The Central Avenue SID and Ann Twomey, President, Health Professionals and Allied Employees
For nearly 140 years the residents of Jersey City and surrounding communities have been relying on Christ Hospital and its dedicated staff for safe and effective health care. Each year, the staff helps deliver more than 1200 babies; cares for over 8000 hospitalized adults and nearly 600 hospitalized children; treats more than 45,000 residents in the Emergency Room; and provides the largest inpatient pediatric service in Hudson County.
Christ Hospital belongs to the community it protects, and its future should not be decided by a handful of people behind closed doors. That is why community, civic and religious leaders have teamed up with healthcare providers and elected officials to protect our community hospital and its mission to provide care to all who need it.
But Christ Hospital CEO Peter Kelly and the Board of Trustees have announced their intention to sell our community hospital to Prime Healthcare Services (PHS), a for-profit chain of California hospitals, without apparent concern for our community and hospital staff, and without having undertaken a national public search for a non-profit option.
There are justified concerns that Prime whopping profit margin of nearly 18% comes at the cost of communities’ access to safe, quality patient care and reflects a policy of putting profits ahead of patient care needs. In California, PHS has eliminated necessary but unprofitable services at some of its hospitals, including chemotherapy, mental health care and birthing centers.
Many of Christ Hospital’s services aren’t profitable – but they are essential to the health and well-being of our community. For example, more than 75% of Christ Hospital’s psychiatric and behavioral health patients are uninsured or under-insured. But since Prime also makes their money from dropping insurance contracts, whether you are insured or uninsured – your access to healthcare might be at risk.
Over the past year, California Watch, an independent, nonpartisan, investigative reporting initiative, has exposed a pattern of billing practices at PHS hospitals involving extraordinarily high rates of certain diagnoses among Medicare patients for which Medicare makes bonus payments. According to California Watch, Prime is being investigated by federal authorities for suspected Medicare fraud in connection with its high reported rate of septicemia, a very serious but rare blood infection.
Prime has made a commitment only to keep the hospital open for five years – with little said about whether current jobs or services will be maintained. They’ve already made a deal to ‘flip’ the real-estate to another for-profit, a ‘Real Estate Investment Trust’, but those details and the implications for our community hospital are not available to the public. Prime also has a record of cutting staff after buying hospitals.
Cutting staff and slashing services are just part of the story. Auditors in California’s Medicaid program flagged Prime for $2.8M in questionable expenses, including payments for the lease on a Beverly Hills home, depreciation on a Bentley sedan, and bills for operating a private helicopter and for stays in upscale Las Vegas hotels.
Hudson County has seen an influx of for-profit companies buying up our hospitals. Making money in urban areas on health care isn’t easy if you focus on health care – but if you focus on profits it’s a formula: cut services and staffing; get rid of unprofitable services; end insurance contracts; and ‘flip’ the real estate.
There have been troubling stories and citations from the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) emerging from inspections of local for-profit hospitals- even while most of their financial transactions are kept hidden from public view. If Christ Hospital is sold to a for-profit company, Jersey City Medical Center will be the last non-profit hospital in Jersey City, and one of only two non-profit hospitals in Hudson County.
The NJ Department of Health and Senior Services and the Office of the Attorney General must make the ultimate decision to allow this sale, and under what conditions. Already, attorneys for Christ Hospital and Prime Healthcare Services have asked these agencies to keep some documents ‘confidential’.
So we ask three things of the Christ Hospital Board of Trustees and the NJ regulatory agencies that must rule on this sale, which include the NJDHSS and the NJ Office of the Attorney General.
First, consider opening the bid to other non-profit hospitals around the country, or collaboration with other area non-profit hospitals.
Second, make sure that any potential owner makes an iron-clad commitment to continue all of the services at Christ Hosptial for at least 10 years, keeping all of the current staff, clinics and community services.
Third, assure transparency for all of the transactions, including the contracts between Christ Hospital and Prime, and between Prime and the real estate company, as well as for the future financial operations of PHS under any ownership.
There will be a town meeting on December 14 at 7 PM at the Abundant Joy Christian Center and we hope our community residents come to add their voice for the future of our hospital.
Ann Twomey is president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employee’s, NJ’s largest union of nurses and health care workers, including nurses at Christ Hospital of Jersey City.
Michael Yun is President of The Central Avenue Special Improvement District, an organization of local business and property owners in Jersey City.