Health Care Unions and Advocates call for Reforms at NJ Department of Health - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Health Care Unions and Advocates call for Reforms at NJ Department of Health

Failures in Enforcement


For Immediate Release      Contact: Jeanne Otersen 201-262-5005

The failure by the Christie administration’s NJ Department of Health to monitor and enforce laws and regulations for safeguarding patient safety and financial accountability and transparency at NJ hospitals was the subject of a report issued by the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), along with consumer and health advocates.

The report examined the Department’s response to recent hospital bankruptcies; its oversight of hospital sales to for-profits; the elimination of hospital inspections; outdated nurse staffing guidelines; and enforcement of laws governing hospitals and worker health and safety.

“The actions – and inactions – of the NJ Department of Health mirror the philosophy, tone and mandate of the Christie administration in its lax oversight and monitoring of companies and institutions that rely heavily on taxpayer and public funding, in this case, health care funding meant for patient care,” said Ann Twomey, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), NJ’s largest union of nurses and health care workers. “Time after time, nurses, patients and community residents have been left fighting an uphill battle to get the Department to take seriously the elimination or reduction of proper staffing and essential services or the sale of our community hospitals to for-profits.”

As examples, the groups pointed to the DOH’s failure to enact regulations implementing certain laws governing hospital financial oversight; its failure to enforce worker health and safety measures; and the Department’s failure to use its authority to appoint healthcare monitors at hospitals with repeated violations or troubled finances.

Renee Steinhagen, an attorney and director of NJ Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, who has intervened for consumers in nearly every hospital sale in recent years, commented, “This report accurately captures the frustration of health care advocates with the Department’s truncated view of their obligations to regulate and ensure access to quality, safe and affordable health care services – especially in granting or denying a for-profit hospital purchase of a community hospital.”

“It is unconscionable that for-profit companies should be able to come here and pick off our hospitals without an in-depth review, strong standards and monitoring & oversight by the State, said India Hayes-Larrier, staff for NJ Citizen Action and the Campaign to Protect Community Healthcare. “ Without proper oversight of these companies is, our communities are left to themselves to defend against cuts in services, staffing, quality and access to health care.”

 “In yet another example”, said Cecilia Gilligan-Leto of the NJ Work Environment Council, “The  NJ Department of Health licensing regulations require healthcare employers to implement comprehensive workplace violence and safe patient handling programs to protect their workers, but the laws are not being enforced by the DOH.  Frontline caregivers are getting injured in preventable incidents, yet we understand the DOH has yet to issue any penalties for non-compliance.”

The report said that the Department, under Governor Christie, had:

  • Failed to update hospital nurse staffing standards since 1987 despite the increased patient acuity and need.
  • Failed to closely monitor compliance with Certificate of Need Conditions placed on the new owners of hospitals and to promptly and effectively address violations of these Conditions.
  • Failed to closely monitor compliance with Certificate of Need Conditions placed on the new owners of hospitals and to promptly and effectively address violations of these Conditions.
  • Embraced a “hands off” approach to the scrutiny and oversight of secretive hospital sale-leaseback arrangements that could result in the loss of community hospitals.
  • Stopped the practice of conducting license renewal inspections of hospitals, relying instead on accreditation inspections by private companies and hospital CEOs’ self-reporting of compliance with federal and state laws.
  • Failed to implement or monitor compliance with many of the department’s own regulations meant to protect patient safety, community access to care, and the working conditions of hospital employees.

Janice Fine and Patrice Mareschal, Associate Professors at Rutgers University saw similarities between their recent study of lax oversight in contracting by the state of NJ and HPAE’s report on the Department of Health.  “The findings in this report further demonstrate that we have an oversight crisis in the state of New Jersey.  New Jersey’s failure to use its own monitoring and enforcement powers places  healthcare consumers, hospital patients, employees and the institutions themselves at risk.”  (“Overlooking Oversight: A Lack of Oversight in the Garden State is Placing New Jersey Residents and Assets at Risk”)

The recommendations in the DOH report include:

  • Updating and strengthening of our state staffing regulations to assure the correct number of licensed professional nurses at all times in all hospitals; 
  • Increasing oversight and support for financially at-risk hospitals; 
  • Increasing financial and operational transparency at all hospitals; 
  • Reinstating the DOH’s hospital license renewal inspections, and public disclosure of inspection reports; 
  • Strengthening DOH oversight and enforcement of hospitals’ adherence to CN and other licensing requirements; 
  • Strengthening standards for hospital conversions to ‘for-profit’, including the appointment of a monitor to oversee quality of care, access to services, and financial management. 

Nurses and health advocates have set up a lobby day in Trenton for this Thursday to deliver petitions signed by a few thousands healthcare workers and families –asking the DOH to update nurse staffing standards and more strictly enforce health laws and regulations.


Click Here to Read the Report