HEALTH

Fighting to Keep Saint Michael’s Medical Center Open

By Briana Vannozzi
Correspondent

This time it’s religious leaders stepping out to lend support in the fight to keep Saint Michael’s Medical Center open in Newark.

“This is a moral issue. This is a moral issue,” said Rev. Ronald Slaughter, senior pastor at Saint James AME Church Newark.

The state-commissioned Navigant study has recommended that Saint Michael’s restructure as an outpatient ambulatory center. But Saint Michael’s is countering that report with one of its own after hospital management says Navigant used faulty data.

“When you do a deeper dive into the information that is there, some of what you’ll find is the information they use may have been incorrect, may have been from a wrong year,” said Saint Michael’s Medical Center President and CEO David A. Ricci.

“All of you that work in healthcare realize that when people do not have a choices that means it drives up the cost of healthcare for everyone. Saint Michael’s is already receiving persons that are under-served, underprivileged of our particular city,” Slaughter said.

Saint Michael’s CEO says the Navigant recommendations would create a monopoly in inpatient hospital services in the Newark area, potentially driving prices to increase by as much as $180 million annually. And that it would drive thousands of Newark residents to seek patient care outside the city.

Navigant consulting firm did not return our request for comment about the Saint Michael’s report.

“Our patients are coming from areas where they chose to come to Saint Michael’s. They could have been going to University already or Beth Isreal already or Clara Maas already,” Ricci said.

“Big university programs sometimes can be overwhelming and less personal whereas our residents have personal contact from the emergency rooms to the floors to either the medical clinics or to the doctors’ offices,” said Dr. Alan J. Klukowicz, pulmonary critical care physician and medical staff president.

“This is an issue about justice in the inner cities and the right for choice of where we want to have health care and who we want to have health care with,” said Newark Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins.

The community support to save Saint Michael’s has been evident from the start and neighbors say that’s because they’re still adapting to the changes that happened after nearby Saint James and Columbus hospitals closed in 2008. And because more than 1,000 jobs are at risk.

“They’re the two most recent examples of this notion of an ambulatory care center with emergency rooms, a satellite emergency department, that have failed,” Ricci said.

“Can you imagine 1,400 people without jobs? Three hundred are residents of the city of Newark, 700 are residents of Essex County,’” Slaughter said.

The state-owned University Hospital would become the biggest game in town if Navigant’s recommendations go through. The sale of Saint Michael’s to the California for-profit company, Prime Healthcare is awaiting approval from the state attorney general. Supporters say it’s their last hope. The hospital’s CEO is awaiting details on a hearing in front of the State Health Planning Board.