A state official gave the final go-ahead for a local nonprofit health system to buy a struggling Salem County hospital.
The Health Commissioner’s decision allowed North Jersey-based Community HealthCare Associates to purchase the Memorial Hospital of Salem County for $3 million, according to hospital officials. Starting on Feb. 1, the facility will have a new name: Salem Medical Center and will return to its non-profit roots.
Community Health System Inc (which has a similar name, but should not be confused the hospital’s new buyers) ran the facility as a for-profit entity since 2002. The Tennessee-based company faced challenges; it was losing money due to growing, nearby competition, and the company’s questionable fate made it hard to recruit doctors, according to previous NJ Advance Media Reports. It cut the number of hospital beds from 140 to 126 and closed the maternity ward.
Community HealthCare Associates called dibs in March 2018 and has been making progress ever since. In December, Community HealthCare reached a deal with the nurses’ union, agreeing to a three percent wage increase and locked-in health insurance coverage.
Hospital spokesperson George J. Gennaoui said $30 million will be invested into the hospital facility as well as medical technology and equipment.
Salem Health & Wellness Foundation pitched in money for the sale, but Executive Director Brenda Goins refused to say how much.
Goins, who has run the foundation since its inception, called the purchase a “good move.”
“We have a lot of needs in this county. I believe with the programming that is coming into this county, this organization is going to be able to meet those needs,” she said, adding that residents needed more detox beds.
Now that State Department of Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal signed off on the certificate of need, the hospital can add an additional 30 long-term care beds at the hospital.
Gennaoui clarified: “We are not adding detox beds, per se, but will be expanding our scope of service by treating patients in our hospital who are in need of detox care, counseling and/or support.”
“In our county, as in most counties in New Jersey and across the United States, there is an ever-increasing need to offer detox services and we will be expanding our scope of service to meet local needs,” he said.
Community members will likely see familiar faces at the hospital; the new owner agreed to hire all of the approximately 400 employees, allowing them to stay in the same position at the same wage.
Former Salem County freeholder director Melissa DeCastro, who was voted out in November, said she was semi-disappointed that the new owner doesn’t seem to have a plan for a full-service women’s floor.
“I had to have my son in Delaware because that is the closest hospital,” she said.
According to DeCastro, women in labor would have to be transferred to other hospitals, making it hard for the women’s family to visit, especially in a county with limited public transportation.
“It’s beyond annoying, it is just sad,” she said.
Yet, an acute-service hospital is better than nothing, and DeCastro said she is thankful it will still be up and running.