Source: NJ Spotlight
Persistent violations of state regulations by Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center has led a hospital labor union official to accuse the state Department of Health of failing to hold Meadowlands, a for-profit hospital, accountable.
That was flatly denied by Department of Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd, who says the state’s oversight of the hospital has been intense and that a series of fines against the hospital have set a precedent for future enforcement actions.
The state recently levied fines against the hospital for failing to file audited financial statements for both 2012 and 2013. The total of both the original fines and additional penalties for slow responses has reached $92,000. Last year’s report also is overdue.
Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) union officials have demanded stricter action against the hospital for several years, following Meadowlands’ conversion from nonprofit to for-profit status.
The issue of financial reporting is particularly sensitive with for-profit hospitals, since they don’t have to make as much information public as their nonprofit peers.
HPAE Chief of Staff Jeanne Otersen yesterday renewed the union’s call for a state-appointed manager. “I think the fines are a continuing and clear indication that the Department of Health is unable to hold Meadowlands Hospital accountable to the standards it sets for every other hospital in New Jersey,” Otersen said.
The state has taken steps to recoup the fines by deducting the money from state Medicaid payments to the hospital, but Otersen wasn’t impressed. “While I appreciate that they have increased the fines and developed a new method of getting the fines resolved, it seems to me it’s merely a minor cost to Meadowlands, or they could have complied a long time ago.” Otersen added:
“I think we’ve seen under the Christie administration, less enforcement, less oversight, and a hands-off regulatory approach — and we would disagree with that (approach) in general.”
Much of this scrutiny has been in response to complaints filed by the HPAE itself. Department of Health safety inspectors made 38 visits to the hospitals from 2011 through 2014, O’Dowd said. “In terms of (being a) watchdog and oversight, that’s a pretty resounding focus from the Department of Health.” That is in addition to precedent-setting fines relative to financial reporting.”
“I appreciate that (HPAE officials) are in a conflict with management, but to articulate a lack of focus and intervention is just not the case,” O’Dowd said, adding that “I don’t think there’s another institution it the state” that’s received more on-site inspections and fines, as well as visits from high-ranking state officials at hospital board meetings.
In a June 1 letter to hospital Chief Operating Officer Lynn McVey, state Assistant Commissioner of Health Susan J. Dougherty notified the hospital of its current penalties, and warned the hospital that its failure to file required reports would harm its ability to receive state approval for future changes in its operations.