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Valley, Englewood hospitals present last stand as Pascack Valley battle heads to hearing

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On the eve of a Health Department hearing on Hackensack University Medical Center’s plan to reopen the former Pascack Valley Hospital, in Westwood, opponents on Tuesday released new studies they commissioned that support their argument that Bergen County has excess hospital beds and reopening the hospital will divert hundreds of patients and millions in revenue from Valley Hospital, in Ridgewood, and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.

The hearing by the State Health Planning Board, expected to draw hundreds, will be 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Westwood Regional Junior/Senior High School, in Washington Township.

In today's press briefing at Englewood Hospital, representatives of Valley and Englewood disputed statistics Hackensack UMC presented in its application for a certificate of need to open a 128-bed hospital at the Pascack Valley site, which Hackensack currently operates as a satellite emergency department.

The opposing hospitals rejected Hackensack’s argument that including patients who are under observation, but not yet admitted, raises the hospital census by 12 percent, thus supporting Hackensack UMC's view that additional patient capacity is needed in the county. Valley and Englewood content observation patients add only 1 percent or 2 percent to the patient census.

“The bed need study that we conducted again shows that opening another hospital in the most overbedded county in the state makes no sense,” said Valley CEO Audrey Meyers.

But Hackensack disputed such findings.

“As stated in the certificate of need application, which we have made public since the day of its filing, both Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank concurred that the average observation rate is approximately 12 percent nationally," said Hackensack spokeswoman Nancy Radwin said. "The actual observation rate at HUMC exceeds 12 percent. In addition, a survey of 29 hospitals by the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council found a 15.8 percent rate of observation.”

“The historical data in the four consulting reports commissioned by Valley and Englewood are inconsistent from one report to another," she said. "What is a fact is that in 2010 alone, Hackensack University Medical Center provided more charity care than Valley Hospital, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, and Holy Name Medical Center, combined. Why did they commission four different reports on the same subject and three in the same year?”

Valley and Englewood have been fighting HUMC’s efforts to reopen Pascack Valley for years, a fight they said has cost them in the low six figures. And they said the financial health of their institutions is at stake: a second study estimated that reopening Pascack Valley would cost Valley $10 million to $24 million in revenue a year, and would cost Englewood between $7 million and $15 million.

No 'compelling evidence'

David Knowlton, CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, was the state-appointed patient care ombudsman at Pascack Valley, and was at the hospital when it closed in 2007 after filing for bankruptcy.

“I so far have not seen any compelling evidence that people have been without care” as a result of the closing, he said.

Valley is seeking approval form the Ridgewood Village Council for a $750 million plan to replace its hospital with a new facility which will have all single-patient rooms, and it also wants to add a parking deck.

Meyers said reopening Pascack Valley “will have a significant impact on our financials. Our intent is still to modernize our facility — we must do that. The building we will replace was planned in the 1950s. We will have to  modernize our facility but we will have to evaluate what it is that we are able to do.”

Doug Duchak, CEO of Englewood, has said his hospital will have hundreds of layoffs if it loses patients to a reopened Pascack Valley.

During his campaign, Gov. Chris Christie visited Pascack Valley and spoke in favor of  reopening it. Officials of Valley and Englewood were unaminous in their view that Christie’s Health Department will approve reopening Pascack Valley — and said they will take the fight to court if that happens. 

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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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