VOORHEES – Gov. Chris Christie showed up Tuesday to open the 750,000-square-foot expansion of Virtua’s Voorhees Hospital, but humbly turned down the credit.
“My administration had nothing to do with this,” he said during a press conference. “The credit belongs to the Corzine administration,” under which the project was initiated.
Even so, Virtua Chief Executive Officer Richard Miller said it was Christie’s red-tape-slashing administration that made the May 22 opening possible. Miller told State Street Wire after the event, “(Christie) was kind of able to clear the pathway.”
Virtua had to engage with seven different state agencies to complete the nine-year project, Miller said, and Christie’s agency heads were hands-on and attentive.
“The (agency leaders) were out here,” Miller said, like Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin.
Christie admired the new glassy, concave-faced building off Route 73, the state’s first hospital built in seven years.
He told the crowd he wasn’t going to bore them with the overall economic impact of the new hospital expansion, but it represents a $580 million investment that has already created 2,800 construction jobs and will ultimately create 1,000 new permanent health care jobs.
The N.J. Health Care Facilities Financing Authority provided the bonding needed to complete the project, which Miller touted as the blueprint for “successful public/private partnerships” in the health care field.
Christie said his administration has created a “steady and predictable” business climate that has allowed economic and job creation projects to move forward in New Jersey.
Virtua is the largest healthcare provider in southern New Jersey, and when they moved their in-patient services out of the city of Camden in 2001, they came under significant fire because it was seen as an abandonment of urban residents who needed health care.
The overall sustainability of urban hospitals has been questioned over the last few years due to less-than-optimal reimbursement for charity care patients, among other issues.
Asked his opinion today, Christie said, “Sure I think (urban hospitals are) sustainable.”
Many urban hospitals “are doing quite well,” he said, although some particular areas might be overcrowded with hospitals. That has been the complaint generally lobbed at the Hudson County hospitals, interesting because NJBIZ reported rumors in March that Virtua had put in a bid for a potential merger of some sort with Jersey City Medical Center, right in the heart of Hudson County.
Critics of Virtua’s evacuation of in-patient care in the city of Camden said the blueprint that was presented today by Virtua was more about how to succeed by leaving the poor behind, than about how to succeed by working with the government.
“I don’t think this is any type of slap at urban hospitals that are shifting (to the suburbs),” Christie said. “I don’t know how anyone could come here and say this is bad for New Jersey.”
His administration has made hospital aid a priority. “It’s one of the very few areas that we didn’t cut, was aid to hospitals,” Christie said. “We have a funding formula that isn’t perfect, but is moving toward that goal.”
During his remarks, Miller said he hoped for “more equitable distributions” of state dollars for hospitals, given that much of the state funding goes to reimbursement for charity care. Miller was asking for more investment, less reimbursement.
“We used our dollars wisely,” he said. “We’re proud that hospitals can be economic engines around our state.”
The new facility includes all private rooms and two distinct emergency areas for adults and pediatrics.
The 125-acre campus is the largest healthcare provider in Southern New Jersey and includes state-of-the-art operating suites and upgraded family accommodations. Adjacent to the new hospital, a 300,000-square-foot ambulatory center with comprehensive outpatient services is currently being built and will offer a summit surgical center for same-day surgery; the hospital’s pediatric specialty center; a sleep center; a café; and community meeting space, the governor’s office said.