Saturday, September 13, 2008

Muhlenberg Hospital: How Politics and Help (and Hurt) - Part 1

Before dealing with the real and only important issue here, the future of Muhlenberg, I need to put to rest some local political silliness. Assemblyman Green, in his blog, uses Dottie Gutenkauf to attack me for "abstaining" from the Council vote to support the Mayors recent legal action regarding Muhlenberg Hospital. The Mayors action was to serve notice of appeal on NJ Health Commissioner Howard's decision on the closing of the hospital.

You should have called me Dottie. Or checked with any Councilperson. Then you would have known that I left the meeting (personal business) before it came up in public. Being absent is not "abstaining". I was present for part of the discussion in executive session. When the minutes and audio tape are made available, you will be able to note my saying to the Mayor that her action has given the Council more time to adequately address the Commissioners decision. You will also be able to hear that I was unhappy that the Mayor filed her notice of appeal without telling the Council, not even telling the Council's committee on Muhlenberg Hospital. We first heard this the day of that Council meeting.

So much for strength in unity. Lucky for the Mayor that the Council got past this oversight and supported the legal action. I was not ready to do so on such short notice. I needed time to understand if this was a serious step or just a political gesture. Given a few days, I decided that I would join the rest of the Council in supporting the Mayors appeal.

Notice of appeal is a step but it does not solve the long term challenge of providing medical services for Plainfielders. That is a tricky subject. When Assemblyman Green first mentioned "Plan B" to anticipate the hospital closing by bolstering services, he was attacked for giving up on Muhlenberg. Actually he was doing the right thing, but saying it in public was bad timing. Likewise, when I told Dottie Gutenkauf that, should Muhlenberg close, the financial health of neighboring hospitals such as JFK in Edison would be important to our residents health and safety.

I am very upset with the Solaris decision to close Muhlenberg. I am even more upset with our Governor, who disregarded the recommendations of his own NJ Commission on Rationalizing Health Care Resources. This blue ribbon panel recommended that essential hospitals that are financially stressed be given state support to remain open. I could ventilate about state legislators also who did not come to the rescue of our hospital (and who accept contributions from hospital systems). Maybe some other time.

Unfortunately, health care decisions in New Jersey are political, not rational. And we Dems are in charge. The heat is on, especially for those elected officials who are running in next years June primary (the Mayor, the Assemblyman, to name a few).

Citizens, you will have to carefully analyze our actions to see if we are just posturing, avoiding blame by pointing fingers at others, or if we are doing whatever we can to solve the problem of providing good health care in Plainfield. More on that in part 2.