State Health Planning Board Recommends Opening New Bergen County Hospital

Hackensack University Medical Center currently runs an ER out of this building, the former site of Pascack Valley Hospital. HUMC has filed an application to open a 128-bed hospital on the site, which the State Health Planning Board recommended Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Hackensack University Medical Center.

By Michelle Sartor

Members of the State Health Planning Board recommended Tuesday that the health commissioner approve an application to open a new hospital in Bergen County.

Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) wants to open a fully functioning hospital at the former site of Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood, which closed in November 2007. HUMC currently runs an emergency room at the site but maintains that a full-fledged hospital is necessary and would benefit the area.

Five of the six State Health Planning Board members voted Tuesday to recommend approving the application for a 128-bed hospital. Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd now has 120 days to make the final decision.

“We are pleased by the State Health Planning Board’s decision to support the opening of HackensackUMC at Pascack Valley. This is a significant step in the process toward reopening the hospital and extending Hackensack University Medical Center’s world-class health care network to the Pascack and Northern Valley regions,” HUMC President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Garrett said in a statement. “We look forward to Commissioner Mary O’Dowd’s decision and remain confident this fair and open process will lead to the opening of HackensackUMC at Pascack Valley, creating hundreds of good-paying jobs and finally bringing Westwood’s community hospital home.”

Residents of Westwood and surrounding towns have spoken out in favor of reopening a hospital while representatives from Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and Valley Hospital in Ridgewood have opposed the application. Representatives from the medical facilities have said that if a new hospital opens in Bergen County, another might be forced to close. They have also accused the process of becoming too political.

The positions of the other hospitals remained unchanged Tuesday after the decision was announced.

“What drives this CN [certificate of need] application is simply that HUMC and its for-profit partner see an opportunity to open a profitable boutique hospital in an affluent corner of Bergen County at the expense of hospitals that are closer and already ably serving these communities,” read an Englewood Hospital statement. “HUMC’s appetite to gain market share by branching into a remote territory doesn’t meet the legal standard for need and doesn’t justify the department reversing its decision of four years ago that Pascack Valley Hospital could and should be closed.”

President and CEO of Valley Hospital Audrey Meyer said, “A hospital closure is an emotional issue. However, the certificate of need regulations are in place to preserve the balance of community need to ensure adequate healthcare access to all residents of the state. Approval of this application will violate all aspects of the regulations and cause permanent harm to northern New Jersey as existing hospitals will be forced to close services, eliminate jobs and even cease operations.”

Those on both sides of the issue attended a meeting in East Windsor Tuesday morning where they could express their opinions. A room able to hold 280 people was filled to capacity, with busloads of residents provided by HUMC and Valley Hospital.

State Health Department staff recommended opening the hospital last week. In October, more than 1,000 people packed a public hearing at Westwood High School to express their views about the application. The overwhelming majority were in favor of the new facility.