Opinion: Public Hearing Will Determine Future of Healthcare in Newark

Newark residents, doctors, nurses and others who are concerned about the future of healthcare in our state’s largest city will have an opportunity on Tuesday to tell the state about the importance of saving Saint Michael’s Medical Center (SMMC).

The State Health Planning Board, on behalf of the Department of Health (DOH), is holding a public hearing on the NJIT campus at 6 p.m. to take testimony on the need for Prime Healthcare Services to purchase Saint Michael’s, which will ensure this "remarkable hospital" — as the US Trustee appointed Patient Care Ombudsman wrote in her report to the Court — will continue to operate well into the future.

There’s a lot at stake at this public hearing; the DOH must approve a “Certificate of Need” for Prime to purchase SMMC. If the state rejects the sale, SMMC, in all likelihood, will cease to operate as an acute-care hospital.

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David Ricci, president and CEO of Saint Michael's Medical Center in Newark

That’s a troubling scenario for the 1,400 dedicated employees and physicians who work at SMMC along with the members of the community who rely on the high-quality healthcare services we provide.

SMMC has served greater Newark for nearly 150 years. But in recent years, the hospital has struggled to meet the financial challenges of today's rapidly changing healthcare landscape.

In January 2012, SMMC’s Board of Directors took the bold, yet necessary step to seek a strategic partner to help sustain our mission and help us flourish both financially and clinically.

After an exhaustive solicitation and bidding process, the Board found that Prime not only met, but often exceeded all criteria the board had established. Prime was selected as the buyer.

Since then, Prime has remained committed throughout every challenge we have encountered, including an unusually long delay in state approval that forced the hospital to seek Chapter 11 reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court this summer.

For nearly three years we have diligently worked to satisfy the state's review process, including answering 14 rounds of questions from both the Department of Health and the Attorney General. Throughout this, Prime remained by our side.

When the auction was held this fall as part of the bankruptcy process, Prime did all it could to secure SMMC. After an unprecedented second review, Prime once again was selected by the Board and the court agreed.

Prime has agreed to hire substantially all of Saint Michael’s 1,400 employees; invest $50 million—twice the amount in the initial agreement—in capital improvements in the hospital over the next five years; to maintain or increase current levels of charity care; and to continue to provide all services currently offered.

These facts, coupled with Prime’s demonstration of its unwavering commitment, make it clear to me and the rest of the SMMC team that Prime is the best solution to secure a vibrant future for our medical center and the community.

Though it has been a long and uncertain journey leading to this moment, I along with our staff remain resolute in our goal of completing this transaction.

On Tuesday, I will respectfully request the State Health Planning Board and the DOH approve the sale of SMMC to Prime and allow this remarkable facility to remain the beacon of light it has been for the community for almost a century and a half of service.

I encourage all who are interested in the future of healthcare in Newark to attend the public hearing and show your support.

David A. Ricci is president and CEO of Saint Michael’s Medical Center

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