Sunday, May 18, 2008

Muhlenberg rally - May 16 - the good, the bad and the useful

I attended the Muhlenberg rally on Saturday. 100 people gathered in downtown Plainfield to march and hear speakers discuss the problems we face at our hospital.

I give much credit to the POP organization - Peoples Organization for Progress. They have skillfully organized and help sustain the grassroots movement to save Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center. It turned ugly for me when the rally was hijacked by Assemblyman Jerry Green for the purpose of promoting his slate of Plainfield Council candidates. I hope POP and any local organizers will not let themselves be used to advocate for an agenda other than fighting for the hospital,the people who need its medical care and the employees who work there.

City Council does not have direct jurisdiction on decisions concerning Muhlenbergs Certificate of Need or sale. What local elected officials can do is advocate for the hospital and for people in the greater Plainfield area who need its services so very much.

Such advocacy must be pro-active. Otherwise we will be in the same place as today: desperate measures, finger pointing and losing control to forces outside our community.

An example of pro-active advocacy would be for the Plainfield City Council to pass a resolution in support of State Senator Vitale's Universal Health care bill. This would be a step beyond just begging the state for more Charity Care money. This would provide health insurance for preventative and acute medical care. We would reduce the wasteful, inhumane and expensive use of the emergency room for non-emergency care. It would increase hospital revenues and make for a healthier hospital for our children and grandchildren.

I will be asking my council colleagues to co-sponsor this resolution. Senator Vitale's office has indicated willingness to work with Plainfield to push this bill forward. Some of my colleagues are saying "not now, the Democratic leadership is not ready". I repeat the famous saying "if not now, when?"

Yes it will cost money and Governor Corzine has said he is reluctant to support it at this time. But then again small towns organized to fight cuts to their state aid and they won. Is our cause less important? Why can't Plainfield fight this good fight? We are a mostly Democratic town. We are a town that gave a huge plurality in the last elections to the Governor and our three state legislators. We helped them. Whats in it for us?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Save Muhlenberg Hospital

Here are my comments, made before the NJ Health Planning Commission last Tuesday evening at Plainfield High School:

"I am a health care professional who has lived and worked in the Plainfield community for 30 years. I am also a Plainfield City Councilman. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to officials of the state Planning Commission.

We would be more prepared to solve the current problem if we were joined by state economic development officials and Congressional staff working on immigration reform.

When Muhlenberg Hospital was founded 131 years ago, it served a small number of patients and the cost could be covered by a few wealthy families.

In modern times, the number of beds rose to 400 and the cost of medical care increased significantly. Health insurance became necessary to spread the hospitals costs over a large population. But Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements never kept up with the true cost of care and the insurance system never provided coverage for all that needed it. Hence Charity Care.

Charity Care was never intended to solve the problems that plague New Jersey hospitals. Looking back, it is clear that we skipped the most important step in assuring that people have good health care: fixing the health insurance problem.

Charity Care is only a stop gap measure for Muhlenberg. The permanent solution requires the following acts on the part of our governments, local state and national:

1. pass State Senator Vitale's Universal Health Care bill (S 1557)- that would bring more revenues to our urban hospitals from uninsured and under insured Americans.

2. urge New Jersey's Congressional delegation and our Presidential candidates to fight for sensible immigration reform - helping illegal immigrants who are already here to become citizens means more people and employers paying taxes and insurance premiums.

These recommendation may sound relatively disconnected from the crisis we face tonight in Plainfield but without solutions on these fronts, we will be left with mostly suburban hospitals in New Jerseys.

3. Plainfield will need to seriously consider creating a medical enterprise zone. But we do need help from the state. How can New Jersey urge us to do Smart Growth, transit oriented development and at the same time close down the biggest economic engine in Plainfield.

4. The big solutions will take time. We need two years of Charity Care support from New Jersey for Muhlenberg. The state Commission on Rationalizing Health Care is on the right track. Some hospitals do need to close. But not essential ones. When will the state take responsibility by releasing the list of essential hospitals. Muhlenberg would surely be on that list.

I received a written statement from the Dept of Health saying there is not enough money to save Muhlenberg Hospital. But a truer statement is that there are other priorities. We need leadership from state government to create some winning options for local health care. You can see the local community is deeply committed to working with you {comment added: there were 1200 people at the hearing}.

I ask the state Department of Health to make a financial commitment to the health care of our urban communities. A good place to pick up the pace is right here in Plainfield."