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Pascack hospital reopening approved by planning board, faces likely legal challenge

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Hackensack University Medical Center’s application to reopen Pascack Valley Hospital as a full-service hospital was approved by the State Health Planning Board, clearing a key hurdle to the facility’s reopening.

The fate of the Hackensack University Medical Center North project now rests in the hands of state Health and Senior Services Commissioner Mary O’Dowd, with state officials saying she will likely make a decision on the Westwood site by the end of the year.

The nonprofit Hackensack UMC filed a joint venture with Plano, Texas,-based for-profit LHP Hospital Group Inc. to operate a 128-bed facility at the Pascack Valley site, which closed in 2007.

The approval faces a likely legal challenge from its opponents. Executives from both Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and Valley Hospital said the reopened facility will draw away patients, and cause them millions of dollars in losses annually.

The planning board voted 5-1 to approve Hackensack’s certificate of need application, after state officials recommended the action.

“The staff believes that HUMC North is appropriately sized, and will not significantly impact the other regional providers, because it will allow Hackensack to shift some of its volume from its main campus to the facility in Westwood,” said John A. Calabria, director of health facilities evaluation and licensing for the state.

Hackensack President and CEO Robert Garrett said the hospital would save lives in nearby towns and increase the capacity for medical residents. He also said the project would provide hundreds of permanent hospital jobs, as well as temporary construction jobs and nearby economic development.

Englewood President and CEO Doug Duchak said declining hospital admissions in Bergen County show the hospital isn’t needed, and would harm neighboring hospitals, like his.

“It’s going to result in lots of layoffs and various other cuts in service,” Duchak said.

Englewood attorney James Hirschhorn said the hospital would appeal an approval in court.

Audrey Meyers, Valley president and CEO, said allowing the facility would “cause irreparable harm to health care facilities in Bergen County.”

The application received the support of several legislators and local elected officials, who said the health of residents near Pascack Valley was at risk from delays driving to other facilities.

State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Cresskill) said the drives to other hospitals have hurt volunteer ambulance squads and “put an extreme strain on the ability to maintain these volunteer services.”

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