Testimony of Patrice Sharkey of HPAE Local 5142 on Transfer of Ownership of The Memorial Hospital of Salem County, November 8, 2018

Public Hearing of the New Jersey Department of Health

Division of Certificate of Need and Licensing

Hello, my name is Patrice Sharkey and I am a nurse at Salem Hospital and a member of HPAE Local 5142, which represents 110 nurses at Memorial Hospital of Salem County. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today regarding the transfer of ownership of the Hospital to the newly formed nonprofit Salem County Hospital Corporation (SCHC). Our local is excited to work with the new employer to ensure that our hospital will provide the kind of quality patient care that our community deserves.

After working at Salem Hospital for 12 years, I have witnessed a lack of investment in our hospital that must be addressed by a future operator, including: the maintenance of the building; upgrades in technology, equipment and supplies; and the recruitment and retention of experienced healthcare professionals who provide care and treatment to patients in Salem County. This last point is particularly important because the staffing levels are nowhere near what they need to be to provide quality patient care.

As nurses our primary interest is to ensure that any new owner and operator is committed to the preservation of medical and behavioral health services and establish a plan to ensure this is a hospital that will retain  a state of financial stability.

The proposed transfer of ownership will result in a change that should benefit our community, as the hospital will return to being operated by a non-profit entity whose mission is dedicated to the care of the poor and uninsured or underinsured. The applicant has stated they will play a vital role in the healthcare of those populations, as repeatedly noted in the CN application. It is critically important that through the Certificate of Need process, the Department of Health (DOH) does its due diligence. It must make sure that health care services of the community served by the hospital affected in this transfer are protected for the good of the citizens utilizing the services and for the good of the employees who provide the services.

As you know, when Salem became a for-profit hospital under the aegis of Community Health Systems (CHS) in 2002, the DOH had $34 million dollars in assets set aside for the creation of a foundation (Salem Health and Wellness Foundation) tasked with investing in programs that would improve the health and wellness of Salem County. With the possible advent of a return to a non-profit status for Salem Hospital, HPAE believes that the original intent for the creation of the Foundation was to assure that the monies would be available for the community’s health care needs through a non-profit entity. By reverting the hospital back to a non-profit status, it stands to reason that $34 million and any interest or gains accrued from it should be returned for use by the hospital. Since the hospital will be returned to non-profit status in this transfer, we recommend that the DOH make an allowance for financial oversight of the Foundation money to be disbursed to the hospital for community gain. It is essential that this money be put to use for improving and increasing access to care: the Foundation has a fiduciary responsibility for doing this, but the state should have the responsibility to make sure nothing is squandered.

The CN application notes CHA will honor the commitment to the community to preserve access to inpatient acute care for the residents[1] and yet the commitment is only for a minimum of five years or a non-specified “reasonable amount of time after five years.”[2] Given that CHA is a for-profit company that specializes in turning economically challenged hospitals into medical arts pavilions for outpatient care only, we are concerned that there is no incentive for CHA to maintain Salem as a non-profit hospital when it knows it can turn it into a profitable medical services center. Based on this, we want to see the commitment extended for 10 years.

Finally, while CHA has expressed a strong willingness to work with our Union over the past several months, we have concerns about that fact that in section 3.16 of the Definitive Agreement, it appears that union representation of current employees are disavowed. The nurses at the hospital voted in 2010 to form our union with HPAE and while we have had an ongoing battle with the current owner, our union was certified by the National Labor Relations Board.  We urge the Department to clarify Section 3.16 which states that there is no union representation. We voted to form our union so nurses can have a voice in protecting our patients and improving working conditions. Our intention as unionized nurses is to continue to be advocates for ourselves, our patients, and our community.

Thank you for your time and I urge you to incorporate our concerns as part of the DOH investigatory process of this transfer.

[1] CN Aplication, p. 35.

[2] CN application, p. 45.