NEWARK – In the wake of a unanimous vote by the Newark City Council to persuade the state to keep Saint Michael’s Medical Center open by selling it, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka faces a conundrum.
The council passed a resolution on Tuesday calling on the state to approve the sale of Saint Michael’s to Prime Healthcare Services, a for-profit firm based in California. The vote follows the release of a report earlier this month by Navigant Consulting that recommended that Saint Michael’s, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and East Orange General Hospital be modified from full-service inpatient hospitals to outpatient emergency and ambulatory care centers. The same report also suggested that the state expand the state-owned University Hospital, also in Newark.
While stating that he wants to keep Saint Michael’s open to preserve jobs and services, Baraka spoke out against the purchase of the hospital by Prime in November, demanding that certain conditions are met by any buyer before a sale goes through. These conditions include that the state requires the buyer of Saint Michael’s keep the hospital open longer than the five-year commitment offered by Prime, as well as mandating that the buyer remain in health insurers’ provider networks and agreeing to work closely with the city’s other hospitals, Newark Beth Israel and University.
Adding to the political ramifications of any potential hospital closures is union involvement. JNESO, the union representing Saint Michael’s nurses, supports the sale to Prime. However, New Jersey’s other large nurses union, the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), opposes the sale, questioning the for-profit company’s track record. HPAE also represents University Hospital nurses.
Baraka was elected last year to be Newark’s mayor with heavy union support, yet doesn’t want to aggravate Newark voters who might see the potential closure of Saint Michael’s as an economic and healthcare disaster. Immediately following Tuesday’s vote, Baraka reportedly declined comment, although he later issued a written statement supporting the idea of maintaining the kind of medical services and jobs that Saint Michael’s currently provides.
In an interview with PolitickerNJ on Thursday, Baraka considered the complexities presented by the future of Saint Michael’s.
“Ultimately, there are a lot narratives that are being told to people here from both sides that are a little bit over the top,” Baraka said following a news conference to officially open the boutique Hotel Indigo on Broad Street in downtown Newark on Thursday. “You’ve got one side saying ‘No one cares about Newark’s jobs. That’s why we want Prime.’ That’s ridiculous. Then there’s the other side saying that Prime is going to come in here, destroy the neighborhood and run away. We’re not going to allow that to happen either.
“At the end of the day, somebody is going to be upset,” Baraka said. “I’m worried that we’re going to be rallying for this hospital to stay open this year, then in two years it will be for University Hospital, then a couple of years later we’ll be rallying around Beth Israel. Our strategy is how do we keep all of the hospitals open, and nobody has lost their job. We’re going to make sure that Newarkers’ jobs are preserved, no matter what happens on the state level with the sale, and that the property will not be vacant.”