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Meadowlands Hospital CEO blasts 'propaganda campaign' by union to install state monitor

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Tomas Gregorio, president and CEO of Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon blasting what he called a "propaganda campaign" by its labor union to have the state appoint a health care monitor to oversee the hospital, which became a for-profit facility following its sale in December to new owners.

State Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-Woodbridge), an influential lawmaker in the health care arena, has joined the hospital's labor union, the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, and Appleseed, a public interest law center, in calling for a state monitor.

In June, the union, which represents most of the hospital's employees, complained to the state Department of Health that layoffs have improperly reduced staffing levels at the hospital. The state conducted an inspection in July and issued a report Tuesday afternoon that detailed deficiencies the hospital has said it will immediately remedy, including lapses in sterilization and preadmission testing controls. However, the Health Department said the hospital is compliant with nurse staffing regulations.

In his statement, Gregorio said the hospital has been maligned "in ways that I have not seen in the last 20 years. … The labor union and Appleseed are using their relationship with each other and with the media to try and influence control over our hospital, and quite frankly, it will not be tolerated."

Gregorio said that over the last eight months, Meadowlands Hospital has "released nonperformers" on the hospital staff, while increasing total staff from 600 to 720. Union spokeswoman Jeanne Otersen said Wednesday the union and hospital are in labor dispute over terminations, which she said is now in arbitration.

Earlier Wednesday, Otersen said the state's inspection confirmed the union's opinion that Meadowlands did not have a system for establishing appropriate nursing levels that looks at "how sick (are the patients), and how much nursing care do they need."

Awaiting a decision

Vitale, vice chair of the Senate health committee, on Wednesday said the deficiencies cited in the Health Department's report "pose a serious and imminent threat to public health and patient safety." He urged the state to hire a monitor, who would be paid by Meadowlands Hospital, "to closely oversee operations at the hospital, and provide the department, the Legislature and all other interested parties with the information they need to ensure public health and patient safety standards are met."

The Health Department said Wednesday it is has not yet made a decision on whether to appoint a monitor to Meadowlands.

Gregorio said the hospital has been a good community partner since becoming a for-profit; Dr. Richard Lipsky, the chair of the hospital board who leads its ownership group, MHA, said as a for-profit, Meadowlands pays about half a million dollars a year in taxes to Secaucus. Gregorio said the hospital provides an ambulance service to Secaucus at an annual savings to the municipality of $700,000.

Gregorio said in the eight months since the change in ownership, the hospital has provided more than $18 million in charitable care, and "understands our mission to the public, and expects that number to increase significantly through the end of the year." He said for years, Meadowlands has had a relationship with the largest pediatric group in the county, with regards to following up with care regardless of a patient's ability to pay.

Gregorio said the hospital "was losing between $700,000 to $1 million per month prior to MHA taking ownership of MHMC, and I am proud to say that is no longer the case. When a hospital goes from a morgue to booming economic engine, staff that for years had little to do sometimes have trouble adapting to the new, fast-paced machine. In addition, integrating new hires into that mix also requires a gelling process that does not happen overnight. Fortunately, we see the transformation of attitudes changing and a coming together to provide optimal patient care."

CLARIFICATION: Gregorio said the union's tactics were a propaganda campaign, not the concept of a state monitor. It was unclear in a previous version of this story.

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