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Hospital Task Force Chooses Consultant

Matthew Hersh

A professional consultant has been chosen to assist the Princeton Health Care Task Force in exploring the feasibility of either increasing the capability of the current hospital facility at 253 Witherspoon Street or completely moving it to an off-site location, possibly outside of Princeton, as part of a comprehensive campus that would comprise all factions of Princeton Healthcare System.

In a press confernce yesterday at Borough Hall, Prof. Alan Sager was introduced as the independent consultant who will oversee and offer data collected from the hospital's findings and from community feedback. He is currently director of the Masters of Public Health program in Boston University's Health Services Department. Prof. Sager is also the director of the Health Reform Program at the University's School of Public Health.

The task force looked for an independent consultant with the aid of a grant received from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that provides $5,000 for assistance in analysis of the hospital's recently-released strategic plan based on information to be received from future public forums, and for a written report based on various findings submitted to the members of the task force.

According to Task Force Chairman Marvin Reed, Prof. Sager has thus far spent most of his time talking with members of the task force, community representatives, and with Barry Rabner, president and CEO of Princeton HealthCare System.

"He's going to go back and digest what he's absorbed and then acquire more details about what he's doing," Mr. Reed said.

Once he has completed his findings, Prof. Sager will take part in an open hearing on Wednesday, September 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Township Hall to address what is at stake regarding the hospital's future. That public forum had originally been scheduled for September 15.

Prof. Sager remained tentative in speculating about his findings, saying that he will have a "better sense" of the hospital's situation in a month, around the time of the public forum, adding that the situation is "as complex as it is important."

The newly-hired consultant said that though he's been on the job only a few days, he's already "acquired the sense of the breadth of the problem and the range of the issues involved and now we'll have a chance to go into depth in all the relevant areas."

Prof. Sager's name first came up in discussions between Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand, Borough Mayor Joe O'Neill, and members of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"It was the agreement that this was precisely the kind of person that we would need," said Mayor O'Neill.

Prof. Sager said so far in his studies he has tracked over 1,200 other cases of hospitals closing and that while each case was "unique," this particular situation featured complexities that "may be a little above average."

"Hundreds of hospitals have closed in the United States in recent decades, and the challenges of sustaining a high-quality hospital are as great as their importance to local communities," he said.

Released earlier this summer, Princeton HealthCare System's strategic plan attached a $230 million price tag to building a new campus, with about $15 million required to attain the land needed to accommodate such facilities. PHCS estimates a cost of $180 to $190 million to expand its current facilities on Witherspoon Street.

PHCS has targeted up to 15 sites in the area where a potential campus could be built.

The Health Care Task Force, which was established earlier this year, includes, along with Task Force Chairman former Borough Mayor Marvin Reed, Mayors Marchand and O'Neill, members of Borough Council and Township Committee, the hospital's Mr. Rabner, and members of the Princeton Regional Planning Board and the Borough and Township Zoning Boards.

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