Executives of a newly formed partnership of mental-health and addiction-service providers chosen to run one of the nation’s largest public hospitals – Bergen Regional Medical Center — signed a 19-year contract Thursday with Bergen County.
Care Plus Bergen – a nonprofit corporation formed by Care Plus NJ, a longtime provider of outpatient mental-health services in northern New Jersey, and Integrity House, a Newark-based provider of substance-abuse treatment – will take over day-to-day operations on the Paramus campus on Oct. 1.
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For the first time, the hospital will be allowed by the county to participate in commercial managed-care plans, which will enable privately insured patients to seek substance-abuse treatment there, according to Joseph a. Masciandaro, CEO of Care Plus NJ. Rutgers New Jersey Medical School is to provide acute care for patients at the facility, including its 171–bed acute-care hospital and ambulatory clinics, under an agreement with Care Plus.
And the current management and staff of the 574-bed nursing home will be retained by the partnership, Masciandaro said.
The transition begins Monday.
“A stronger, more innovative county-owned hospital is a victory for all of us,” County Executive James J. Tedesco told the board of the Bergen County Improvement Authority before it voted to approve the contract Thursday afternoon. Care Plus Bergen will lease the facility from the Improvement Authority.
Care Plus is expected to rename the hospital.
The Authority acted following a recommendation by the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders to choose Care Plus Bergen as the new tenant-operator. The freeholders made the unanimous recommendation Wednesday despite a plea by some Bergen County legislators to wait. State Sens. Paul Sarlo and Loretta Weinberg questioned the transparency of the selection process and expressed concern that a new hospital operator would compete with Bergen County’s four other hospitals.
Those hospitals – Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, Englewood Hospital Medical Center, The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood and Hackensack University Medical Center – had formed a consortium to bid on the contract, and were not chosen.
“Why do we need to enter into an agreement for another health-care system to come in and provide acute care services,” asked Sarlo, a Wood-Ridge Democrat, “when we have these large hospitals, including two of the largest employers in the county, that make millions [of dollars] of infrastructure investment, with good, union construction jobs.”
Weinberg, a Teaneck Democrat, said she had “questions about the process” used to select the bidder, and was concerned that the proposal and contract had not been made available to the public prior to the vote.
The freeholders’ resolution detailed a two-year process launched by Tedesco shortly after he took office as county executive. An advisory commission first identified “guiding principles” for Bergen Regional’s future operations, various requests for qualifications and information were solicited, then formal proposals were made and a scoring system was set up to compare the seven bids that eventually were received.
“This isn’t a competition,” Tedesco said Thursday. “This is about providing adequate health care for a million people in Bergen County and those that need it the most — the underinsured and not insured. The partnership we’ve put together with CarePlus Bergen and Rutgers and Integrity House is going to give us that ability.”
Tedesco said he looked forward to working with executives from the other hospitals to come up with a “comprehensive county health plan where we all are doing what we should be doing to provide health care to the people of Bergen County.”
In a joint statement late Thursday afternoon, the four hospitals that formed the “Bergen Coalition” said they were “disappointed that we were not selected as the successful bidder, [but] we remain committed to ensuring that the patients served by Bergen Regional receive the highest quality care.”
The Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents over 500 nurses and other health workers at the hospital, said the choice of Care Plus Bergen was a “relief.” The union has frequently raised concerns about patient and worker safety at the hospital, especially after reports of dozens of alleged assaults were reported by The Record last year.
“This rightfully returns the hospital to a not-for-profit status and should mean the restoration of resources to our patients,” said Jeff Peck, a full-time registered nurse at the facility and president of the union local.
The hospital has been operated for the past 19 years by a Colorado-based, for-profit company, originally known as Solomon Health Group, which later assigned the contract to an entity known as BRMC, LP. Critics contend that the operator skimped on repairs and reduced staff.
Patients at Bergen Regional are among the most difficult to treat, mentally ill, often substance abusers suffering from overlapping health problems like diabetes and hypertension. They cycle in and out of the hospital and emergency department, the most expensive forms of care. And taxpayers cover more than 80 percent of the costs, through various government programs.
The new vision for the hospital is to “integrate primary care, behavioral health care, substance abuse care and access to social supports,” said Masciandaro, Care Plus NJ’s CEO. His agency was one of dozen national demonstration projects, pioneering new methods of treating the comprehensive health needs of addicts and mental-health patients. Care Plus NJ provides primary care – for high blood pressure or diabetes, say – at the same time and place as counseling or substance-abuse treatment is given.
“If you just treat the mental-health condition, and ignore the diabetes, you’re missing the boat,” he said.
The goal is to integrate those services at Bergen Regional. “We’re not in competition with hospitals or local community mental health center,” he said.
The county government this week also authorized $75 million in immediate capital spending – including $20 million for information technology improvements — to make upgrades and repairs at the hospital. That borrowing is to be repaid through facility operations.
Overall, Masciandaro said, the hospital expects to take in approximately $212 million in annual revenue, of which 90 percent will go to the county. The county will return that for operating costs, and will handle all capital improvements.
A longer-term plan for capital improvements at the facility is to be developed within the next few months.
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