Union Questions Runnells Privatization

UNION COUNTY — A representative from the labor union representing Runnells Hospital employees had a long list of questions for freeholders moving toward privatization of the county facility, which has been losing money for years.

Ann Howarth, vice president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees Local 5112 which represents 60 Registered Nurses at Runnells Specialized Hospital, questioned the board at its October meeting about those plans and raised a number of concerns.

“The Request for Proposal for sale or lease of Runnells Hospital issued in September by the Union County Freeholders and Improvement Authority contained no guidelines, no protections and no benchmarks for maintaining quality of care and services, protecting the rights and working conditions of nurses and staff, or taxpayer accountability, or access to care for our residents,” Howarth said.

She asked the freeholder board to answer the following questions:

  • Where are the protections and standards for any bidder to honor existing contracts with staff?
  • Where are the standards for providing and maintaining services and access to care for our residents?
  • Can you tell us tonight what companies attended the initial meeting?
  • How transparent will the process be? Will there be public hearings or forums with bidders? Will the bids be made public and at what point?
  • Will bid specifications be more detailed than the existing RFP?
  • Will you commit to protecting the working conditions and collective bargaining rights of the workforce?
  • Will the County commit to honor its existing retiree contracts?
  • The RFP says an undetermined number of beds will be reserved for county residents or public needs. When will we know how many beds are being considered?

Freeholder chairman Linda Carter deferred the questions to Jonathan Williams, legal counsel of the Union County Improvement Authority (UCIA), the agency that is handling the request for proposals.

Freeholder Bruce Bergen said that no decision has been made whether to sell or lease Runnells.

In September, the UCIA announced a Request for Proposals from firms interested in “purchasing or leasing all or part of the property and/or operations” of the county-owned and operated hospital in Berkeley Heights.

The facility, which contains a 300-bed licensed long term care unit and a 44-bed licensed adult psychiatric care unit, had a deficit of more than $22 million for 2012, according to Union County spokesperson Sebastian D’Elia.

Proposals which would involve completely privatizing the facility, as well as options which would involve a combination of public and private operation and ownership will be considered. The UCIA will wait to see the proposals, which are due by Dec. 10, before choosing which option to pursue, according to D’Elia.

What Is Long Term Acute Care?

A long term acute care facility is a specialty-care hospital designed for patients with serious medical problems that require intense, special treatment for an extended period of time—usually 20 to 30 days.

Long term acute care facilities offer more resources, individualized attention and intensive care than a skilled nursing home or rehabilitation facility.

Patients are typically transferred to a long term acute care unit from the intensive care unit of a traditional hospital because they no longer require intensive diagnostic procedures offered by a traditional facility.

While a traditional hospital provides several general medical services such as emergency treatment, maternity care, or surgical procedures, a long term acute care hospital has the focused resources to apply very high standards of care to patients with a relatively small list of ailments.

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