A new name. Millions in investments. Major renovations. New services. Some 300 new employees.
Will it be enough to turn around an ailing, nearly 100-year-old hospital in rural South Jersey?
Community leaders, health care professionals and the company that plans to take over The Memorial Hospital of Salem County in Mannington Township say the answer is “yes.”
In one of the final steps in the long process of turning over the facility to a new owner, state officials last week heard testimony — which at times almost sounded like pleas — supporting Bloomfield-based Community Heath Care Associates’ plan to buy Memorial.
“We need to end the uncertainly among medical professionals who are considering whether or not this is a facility that they are comfortable practicing in,” said Dr. Wamiq Sultan, vice chief of the hospital’s medical staff. “We need to know that stability is coming.”
He called completion of the sale from Tennessee’s Community Health Systems “critical for the future of health care in Salem County.”
“Our plans include the renovation of a substantial portion of the existing facility, the consolidation and growth of certain medical programs and the implementation of significant upgrades to the hospitals medical equipment and information technology systems,” said Steven Rosefsky, one of CHA’s partners.
“By focusing on revenue growth rather than cost-cutting measures, we expect to more than triple the daily (number of patients), attract and retain best-in-class nurses, physicians and staff, and expand high-quality healthcare services to the residents of Salem County.”
The complex on Woodstown-Salem Road will be known as Salem Medical Center.
Total investment will be between $30 and $60 million, CHA officials said. That includes money from CHA and the Salem Health and Wellness Foundation, a non-profit created with funds from the $32 million sale of Memorial Hospital in September 2002 to the for-profit CHS.
Brenda Goins, foundation executive director, said the foundation is ready to “support the purchase and subsequent operation of the hospital for years to come.” Grants and loans for the deal would exceed 50 percent of the foundation’s total assets which, according to the latest financial statements, total round $65 million.
While infrastructure improvements are planned, so are the expansion of services.
“There are ongoing conversations about a number of potential services that could include anything from urology to vascular and cardiology. The addition of services is all dependent on what the needs of the community are deemed to be as this project progresses,” said CHA spokesman Steven Lenox.
In 2013 when Memorial closed its maternity ward, the number of births there was less than 200 a year. That number is “not enough to sustain an obstetrics unit that would be able to meet the high quality of care that CHA demands and patients deserve,” Lenox said.
Rosefsky said CHA has already guaranteed all approximately 400 Memorial Hospital employees jobs and CHA is expected to create an additional 300 jobs at the hospital over the next three years.
CHA wants the state to OK its plan to modify the hospital license for fewer medical/surgical beds, but add adult acute psychiatric beds and 30 long-term care beds.
Officials are hoping the deal can close by Dec. 31.
Patrice Sharkey, a 12-year nurse at Memorial Hospital, called on CHA to guarantee her union, the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, would be recognized, and said the state should act as a watchdog to guarantee and Health and Wellness Foundation funds be used properly and “nothing is squandered.”
Sharkey was also concerned that in the transfer of ownership agreement CHA is only required to operate the hospital as an acute care facility for five years.
“As part of the regulatory process the Department of Health asked CHA if it would maintain acute care for at least five years, their answer was ‘yes,'” Lenox said. “The very significant financial investment CHA is making to transform Salem Medical Center offers what should be seen as a definitive indicator of their commitment to serving the community for many years to come.”
The plan to add long-term care beds at hospital didn’t sit well with a representative from the three area nursing and rehabilitation centers.
Salem Medical Center will be operated as a non-profit, CHA officials say, but will provide Mannington with a payment in lieu of taxes. It was operated as a for-profit under CHS.
The long-empty Surgery Center on the hospital campus will be put back into use in some form and other out-patient facilities are planned, officials said.
A deal had been in place to sell the hospital to a California-based non-profit, in May 2017, but fell through the same day the New Jersey Department of Health approved it.
The sale price then was $15 million. According to documents obtained by NJ Advance Media through an open public records request, the sale prices this time is $3 million.
Testimony from the hearing will be forwarded to the state Health Planning Board which, in early December, which will vote whether the sale should be approved or rejected.
New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal will then have 120 days to make a final decision.