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OUR POINT OF VIEW For-profit ownership can treat ailing N.J. hospitals

The Health Department's decision to reopen shuttered Pascack Valley Hospital is an opportunity to finally move on and go about the business of rebuilding a hospital in Westwood.

Of course, the last week has been anything but that, as Valley and Englewood hospitals vowed to continue a legal fight that has offered so much predictability, Rob Reiner has optioned the rights to a romantic comedy version of it. But we're even sorrier to see the for-profit-hospital-as-boogeyman storyline resurrected as ailing hospitals continue seeking treatment for flatlining finances.

In the early skirmishes between Hackensack and its rivals over Pascack, the theme of a for-profit model being bad for Bergen got more play than Rick Perry's inability to count to three in a primary debate. But we believe an operational hospital, regardless of whether it is for- or nonprofit, is preferable to a closed hospital. When Prime Healthcare was in talks to take over Christ Hospital, it was painted as a money-hungry vampire that would bleed patients and cripple care — so it withdrew its bid. Ask Jersey City residents how excited they are now, with details of their hospital's bankruptcy plans just beginning to emerge — and no for-profit savior eager to take on the kind of backlash Prime faced.

For-profits have to do it better than nonprofits, because the degree of scrutiny they face is much steeper. A glimpse of what the new Pascack Valley facility will offer gives evidence of this — it will include high-tech labs and emphasize patient comfort in a way the old hospital did not. The best evidence may be Memorial Hospital's story — since being taken over by a for-profit in 2002, it's added doctors and services, and pays taxes.

Sometimes, seeking a profit isn't the disease — and it may even be a cure.

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