NJ Health Department gives HUMC nod to open Westwood hospital

AS REPORTED IN THE CLIFFVIEW PILOT (WWW.CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM)BY JERRY DEMARCO

Gov. Chris Christie came to Westwood in Northern Bergen County for a town meeting Wednesday with big news: State Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd has given Hackensack University Medical Center the go-ahead to reopen Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood, fulfilling the governor’s campaign promise.

Gov. Christie with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (l.) state Sen. Gerald Cardinale (second from r.) and Assemblyman Bob Schroeder (far r.) during 2009 campaign stop outside the hospital (CLIFFVIEW PILOT photo)

“Failing to establish [the hospital] may place the residents of the Pascack Valley and Northern Valley at greater risk when health care emergencies arise and immediate care is essential,” O’Dowd wrote in a 14-page letter approving plans for the 128-bed HUMC North facility, which the hospital willoperate with its partner, LHP Hospital Group Inc. of Texas.

The privately operated, non-taxpayer-subsidized hospital will be a first for North Jersey and will impact the Rockland market, particularly southern Rockland. Officials say it could be open as early as October but more likely before next spring.

O’Dowd placed conditions, saying the facility cannot add beds for three years.

What’s more, “all residents of the hospital service area, especially the medically indigent” must have access to services, she wrote, in the letter released by the Health Department tonight.

O’Dowd is also requiring a residency program for at least 30 med school graduates, aimed at keeping New Jersey from facing a shortage of trained physicians.

Even before becoming governor, Christie long insisted that Pascack Valley Hospital be reopened. The nearly 300-bed hospital, which opened a half-century ago, closed five years ago after being forced into bankruptcy.

Assembly Republicans Bob Schroeder and Holly Schepisi, both R-Bergen/Passaic, welcomed the move enthusiastically.

“As a firefighter and emergency responder, I have experienced first-hand the life-and-death difference it can make when you have to travel even just a few minutes further to receive medical care,” Schroeder said. “I have full confidence that HUMC-North will provide a valuable and necessary service to our residents, and save lives.

Jerry DeMarco is the publisher and editor of Bergen County’s acclaimed independent news site Cliffview Pilot and is a former Rockland County journalist. Visit www.cliffviewpilot.com for the latest in Bergen County