A few dozen people used the opportunity to speak about the transformation of St. Francis in Jersey City from a hospital into a Satellite Emergency Department that will continue to run the emergency room ward on a 24-hour basis. The meeting was held at Ferris High School from 2 to 4 p.m. and again from 6 to 8 p.m.
Most of the speakers were affiliated with the health care system that owns St. Francis and, as expected, spoke in favor of the conversion, requesting that the state grant the required Certificate of Need that the hospital wants. The hospital would like to relocate long-term care beds to other hospitals and eliminate acute-care services like diagnostics and standard medical tests used in check-ups. The hospital would then exist only to provide emergency room care. A patient who was treated in the emergency room and needed admission would be transferred afterwards to another hospital.
The hospital will also be adding a nursing home.
Efforts to reduce the facilities at St. Francis emerged in response to the partnership formed between Bon Secours and the Christ Hospital in March, forming the health care system Bon Secours and Canterbury Partnership for Care. St. Mary Hospital in Hoboken is also a part of this health care system that plans to consolidate its resources amidst a changing market place.
"The health care needs of our community have changed," said Frank Fekete, a member of the board of trustees for Christ Hospital. Due to changing demographics, the need for long-term care facilities has declined over the past decade, leaving half of the beds empty in all three hospitals, he said. By eliminating the in-patient ward at St. Francis and depending on the facilities at the other two hospitals, Bon Secours and Canterbury Partnership for Care are following a state trend, Fekete said.
The decreasing number of in-patients in the last decade has occurred in response to managed care plans that dissuade expensive overnight stays in hospitals, and new technology that has spurred quicker recoveries, according to Vice President of Post Acute Services Ira Hammer.
From 1996 to 2000, St. Francis lost $19.8 million, said Sean O'Rourke, the chief financial officer of Bon Secours & Canterbury Partnership for Care.
Assuring the state and residents present at the meeting that hospital care is still within reach, Bon Secours and Canterbury Partnership for Care reiterated Jersey City's proximity to nine hospitals other than St. Francis, with Christ Hospital less than a mile away and St. Mary slightly more than a mile.
However, a few residents were not satisfied with the alternative.
"I don't want you to tell me where to go for my health care," said Bernadette Lando, a graduate of the St. Francis nursing school.
As a Satellite Emergency Department, patients in need of emergency care at St. Francis will receive the same medical treatment, but will be transported to another hospital if their condition requires them to stay overnight.
The most vocalized critics of the proposed conversion came from Health Care and Hospital Workers District 1199-J, the union representing technical, service and maintenance workers. In April, one month after the partnership formed, the health care system sent 231 lay-off notices to the staff, giving the employees 60 days notice.
"Our belief has been from the very beginning that this would be a two-year phase and nothing would happen right away," said Susan Cleary, treasurer of 1199-J. "It just seems as if they fast-tracked it."
Not the partnership, but a lack of patients led to the layoffs, according to Joan Quigley, spokesperson for Bon Secours and Canterbury Partnership for Care. What might have accelerated the recent dropoff in patients at St. Francis, however, was when doctors began encouraging patients to go to other hospitals because of the impending merger.
"We went from 100 patients to 15 patients in a matter of weeks, not months," Quigley said. As a result, a full staff was left with little to do.
The hospital has set up a job fair to assist people in finding jobs within the health care system.
To date, 126 employees were offered positions with the same company, 54 employees resigned, and 73 were laid off, according to Bernadette Bogden, the vice president of human resources.
A union issue still remains, though. Whereas District 1199-J members will have no trouble at St. Mary Hospital, they will not have the benefit of a union at Christ Hospital.
"I've heard from everyone who is on the payroll of Bon Secours and Canterbury Partnership for Care," said Pedro Fanduiz, president of the local chapter. "These layoffs came before they even applied for the Certificate of Need."
"You wouldn't need a Certificate of Need to reduce the workforce," Hammer said. The Certificate of Need only applies to the hospital's removal of long-term care beds and elimination of acute-care services, he said.
Although St. Francis Hospital will be removing its acute-care service facility, it will be adding a nursing home. Bon Secours and Canterbury Partnership for Care also runs the Franciscan Home & Rehabilitation Center on Stevens Avenue. It plans on moving this facility into the vacated area in St. Francis at a cost of $7.2 million. "We are expanding services for the elderly," said Peter Murphy, secretary of Bon Secours and Partnership for Care. "It will serve the community in a different and innovative manner."
Also, St. Francis Hospital will be retaining its rehabilitation center, which is the only one in the county.