In a unanimous move that effectively ratified more than three years of planning, a state panel last Thursday agreed with the findings of a strategic plan put forth by the Princeton HealthCare System, and granted an approval that will result in the relocation of PHCS' University Medical Center at Princeton and Merwick Care Center to Plainsboro Township.
Additionally, the panel the state's Health Planning Board, which is a faction of the state Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) rebuffed an initial staff report that called for PHCS to maintain a satellite emergency department (SED) on the current hospital campus on Witherspoon Street as a condition of approval of PHCS' Certificate of Need (CN) application.
In effect, the planning board ultimately sided with the findings of a Princeton Borough and Township municipal task force charged to examine the feasibility of the hospital maintaining a presence on Witherspoon once the main facility relocates. While that task force looked into keeping a charity care clinic on site rather than an SED, the initial philosophy behind keeping either one in town was similar.
In the staff report to health planning board members, concerns were raised related to the "less fortunate and poorest pocket of the population" in Princeton being in need of an SED. Apparently swayed, in part, by testimony from two members of that municipal task force, the board accepted the hospital's offer to provide on-demand, 24-hour transportation service with its own fleet for non-emergency medical situations for those in the Princeton community who cannot drive. Emergency-related situations will still be handled through ambulance dispatch. A telephone system for non-emergency care will also be stipulated.
Claire Jacobus, a Borough resident who, along with Minnie Craig, also of the Borough, was part of that municipal task force, urged the board to allow all factions of the Witherspoon campus to move with the "mother ship" to the new, $350 million facility in Plainsboro, slated for a fall 2010 opening. As was outlined in the published October task force report, Ms. Jacobus worried that a separate, offsite facility specifically geared for poorer patients would result in an inequitable care system.
"Two-tiered health care should not be on the table," she said. Ms. Craig acknowledged a desire within some members of the community for the hospital to stay, but said that desire is largely sentimental. "The hospital has to move because it has to expand," she said, adding that on-demand transportation would be sufficient. "They will provide good transportation, because if they don't, they will hear it," she remarked.
Judy Donlen, chairperson of the Health Planning Board, agreed with the hospital's contention that a SED would be underused. "I just don't think the numbers are there," she said.
Dr. Kenneth Goldblatt, chairman of Internal Medicine at UMCP, also urged the board to scratch the SED proposal. "You'd be wasting your time," he said.
However, Al Maghazehe, CEO of Capital Health System, while endorsing PHCS' relocation efforts, told the board that an SED should be contingent on any approval. In November, when Capital Health received its Certificate of Need to relocate its Capital Health System Mercer hospital to Lawrence Township, the board required an onsite facility to remain on Bellevue Avenue in Trenton for at least three years. That requirement was similar to what DHSS staff had recommended for UMCP.
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