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EDITORIAL: Meadowlands chaos needs state intervention

We talk about hospitals and health care quite a bit in this space, and it's not hard to guess why — the upheavals to the existing business model brought on by technology, changes in federal regulation and overuse of emergency rooms have reshaped the landscape in powerful ways. The strain has been particularly hard on nonprofit hospitals, which is why so many of them have been threatened with closure or have been sold to for-profit operators.

Such sales can be a blessing — while neighbors tend to be skeptical of the motivations of for-profit care companies, the alternative is the local hospital shutting down. But there has to be some sensibility here. Relevant financials should be disclosed, as we have argued previously, to allow these operators to prove they have skin in the local community. And when there are red flags, the state has an obligation to step in and investigate.

So while it’s rare we want the state involved in for-profit enterprise, the Department of Health is overdue for a visit to find out what’s going on at Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center.

LibertyHealth turned over the 230-bed Secaucus hospital to for-profit MHA LLC in 2010, and while the owners pumped millions of dollars into upgrading a facility that had long been struggling, it hasn’t been smooth sailing. The state levied a seemingly endless series of fines on the hospital for failure to submit financial reports, and it’s gone through several CEOs in a short time span — Tom Considine, the latest, is on his way out after just three months on the job, apparently owing to frustration about the lack of authority he was given to run the hospital and improve its image.

Under Considine, who has experience both in state government and insurance, it looked as though things were improving — Meadowlands’ credit rating improved, and the hospital was taking steps to right-size its workforce, announcing layoffs as a result of its many empty beds. But it was really just the beginning of a long journey that now requires starting over as the owners begin searching for a new CEO.

There are some very real questions that need answering as the situation around Meadowlands unfolds. Is ownership still in a position to effectively run this hospital, given it’s only a quarter full on a good day? Can the owners find a CEO who they trust to form and follow up on a vision to turn around its reputation? And if not, what’s next for the hospital and the region? It seems unlikely those answers will come from within — so it may fall to the state to do some answering.

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