The Journal News
WESTWOOD, N.J. – Leaders of both of Rockland’s acute-care hospitals are opposing a plan for a new for-profit facility just over the county line in Bergen County, N.J., where Pascack Valley Hospital operated until it went bankrupt a year ago.
Both David Freed, chief of Nyack Hospital, and Michael Schnieders, executive vice president of Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, have written to New Jersey officials urging them not to approve a plan by Hackensack University Medical Center and a private Texas company to open a new, for-profit hospital at the Pascack location.
Both maintain that a new, 128-bed hospital just miles from the Rockland border is unnecessary and will make it harder for the Rockland hospitals and other area facilities to provide care in an increasingly difficult and competitive financial environment.
“I strongly believe that patients are not well served by opening a new hospital in Westwood,” Freed wrote in his letter to the New Jersey health commissioner. “It will only exacerbate the regional oversupply of hospitals and hospital beds and, in turn, negatively affect the quality of health care delivery throughout Bergen and Rockland counties.”
In its plan submitted to New Jersey regulators, Hackensack denies that its plans for a new hospital will have an impact on other hospitals competing for the same patients.
The new hospital, “will serve the 14 communities immediately surrounding the hospital, while at the same time ensuring that there will be no negative impact on other existing hospitals in Bergen County,” Hackensack wrote in its application to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.
Hackensack said that its joint venture with Legacy Hospital Partners of Plano, Texas, will enable the new hospital to be run without any public funding.
In documents, Hackensack said it will be able to make a financial success of the proposed hospital and maintains that the old Pascack Valley Hospital went out of business because of poor management and overexpansion.
The proposal does not mention the effect on Rockland.
Before it declared bankruptcy and closed a year ago, Pascack Valley Hospital was a popular choice for Rockland residents – especially people living in the southern part of the county.
During its last full year of operation, the hospital treated 1,100 New Yorkers, most of them from Rockland.
Haverstraw resident Sonia Serrano was one of them.
She gave birth to her daughter in Pascack’s obstetrical department last year.
“I’d love to see that hospital reopen,” she said. “It was a great place – so convenient. I’d go there again.”
But Rockland hospital officials want to keep patients like her at the county’s two hospitals. They maintain that they are more than able to do that.
Schnieders told New Jersey officials that in the year since Pascack Valley closed, Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern had treated many patients who once used the Bergen County hospital and hoped to continue to do so.
“With our occupancy rate of 81 percent, we look forward to continuing to serve patients from Pascack communities for years to come,” Schnieders wrote.
Both Freed and Schnieders pointed out that separate studies done in both New York and New Jersey have shown that there are too many hospital beds, which makes it harder for all hospitals to have enough patients to make enough money to survive.
New Jersey hospitals are also fighting the proposal. Two of them, Englewood Medical Center and Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, have hired a public relations firm to launch a campaign against the proposal.
Both New Jersey hospitals are in the midst of expanding their services. Englewood is building a new emergency department and Valley Hospital is trying to expand its campus and replace two of its buildings.
But Anthony S. Cicatiello, who was hired by the two hospitals to fight the Hackensack proposal, said expanding services is not the same as opening a new hospital.
“The market has already determined that there was no need for Pascack Valley Hospital,” he said. “Other hospitals, including the ones in Rockland, stepped in to take those patients.”
Adding a new 128-bed hospital to the region goes against the recommendations of both New York and New Jersey regulators, who have called for fewer hospital beds, he said.
But other people wonder why the hospitals are fighting the new proposal so strongly.
“Why are they so afraid of a little competition?” asked Tomkins Cove resident Jay Hirsch. “Competition is good for the patients – it gives us more of a choice.”
It is unclear how much of an effect the new hospital would have on Rockland.
Hackensack Medical Center last month opened an emergency room in the old Pascack building, which it bought at a bankruptcy auction.
Ray Florida, head of Rockland Paramedic Services, which provides paramedic services for the entire county, said he had heard that Pascack Valley’s emergency room was open again.
“But we never received any kind of formal notification,” Florida said.
In the past month, no Rockland residents served by paramedics have asked to be taken to the Pascack ER, he said.
“No one’s asking about it,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to be having much of an impact at all.”