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State won't require Meadowlands hospital to appoint monitor

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The state Department of Health and Senior Services has decided not to require the appointment of a patient care monitor for Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, which was cited last month by DHSS for various violations following an inspection triggered by complaints from the Secaucus hospital's nurses union.

William Conroy, deputy commissioner of the agency, indicated the department has sufficient regulatory and monitoring authority to oversee Meadowlands without appointing a full-time, on-site health care monitor, who would have been paid by Meadowlands.

Meadowlands was acquired in December by a for-profit health care company headed by Dr. Richard Lipsky. The monitor request came from state Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-Woodbridge), vice-chair of the Senate health committee; New Jersey Appleseed, a Newark-based public interest law center; and the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents nurses and other medical professionals at Meadowlands.

Hospital representatives were not available to comment on the decision.

David L. Knowlton, CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said he disagrees with the decision.

"Meadowlands is a hospital in transition," Knowlton said. "The Department of Health finds they have some significant quality issues, and there has been some pushback from the nurses' union at the hospital. When you have that type of conflict at a transition point in a health care facility's life cycle, I am a believer in having someone who is directed to look out for patients in an effective way. What harm could be done by assigning a monitor?"

Union spokeswoman Jeanne Otersen said, "While we believe the Department of Health is providing oversight to Meadowlands, we think the concerns raised at Meadowlands rise to a different level, and we repeat our request for a monitor." The new owners have terminated some workers, and Otersen said the union is in the midst of grievance procedures on behalf of 50 or 60 terminated employees.

Renee Steinhagen, executive director of Appleseed, said she was "disappointed but not surprised. I think the department overestimates its capacity to properly monitor" Meadowlands. "We will see if things improve — and if not, we will consider going to court."

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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