ELIZABETH —After more than a decade of on-again off-again attempts at selling the county’s long-term-care hospital, Union County freeholders tonight are expected to vote on a report that recommends continuing talks to sell the 102-year-old facility.
The controversial move to privatize Runnells Specialized Hospital in Berkeley Heights is an attempt, county officials say, to staunch the loss of millions of dollars in annual operating costs while trying to preserve jobs for the employees and care to the patients.
But employees, who have successfully fought off privatization efforts in the past, contend there’s no guarantee the proposed sale would save their jobs or provide the same level of care for patients.
Photo below: Local 5112 members at the Freeholder meeting:
County officials are not discussing the proposal, but a letter to Runnells employees from county manager Alfred Faella tried to reassure them.
In the six-paragraph memo, Faella said any deal would require the new owner to keep the facility as a hospital. He said all employees “in good standing” would be given the right of first refusal to jobs there under the new owner and that patients would be allowed to stay in the hospital until they no longer need care. He said patients could not be transferred without their consent.
Barbara Egger, a longtime Runnells nurse and president of Local 5112 of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, has told The Star-Ledger privatization could result in reduced quality of care for the patients.
She argued privatization often results in less access to quality health care and deteriorates working conditions, wages and retirement security for employees. She contends there will also be less – or even no – accountability and transparency to the public.
Runnells, which opened in 1912, has 300 beds for long-term care and another 44 beds for adult psychiatric care. Last year, it ran at a $13 million deficit.
Under the plan, the county would sell or transfer the hospital to the Union County Improvement Authority for the eventual sale to a private firm. The authority issued a request for bids on the hospital in September and has been considering a proposal from an undisclosed company. The county enlisted help from the quasi-independent authority, county officials have said, because the improvement authority has fewer restrictions for selling or transferring public property.
Tonight’s resolution authorizes continued negotiations. In a process that could take months, either the improvement authority or the freeholder board would have to hold public hearings before any sale could occur.
By MaryAnn Spoto/The Star-Ledger