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Hospital Unveils Future Plans; No Location Set

Matthew Hersh

A year ago, when Princeton HealthCare System set out to create a master list of goals and objectives, it was the first time the health care network had attempted to develop an all-encompassing plan that takes into account all of the facilities and programming combined. It was also the first time the hospital was faced with creating a strategic plan that potentially included a move from its 84-year-old home, located at 253 Witherspoon Street.

Before that, issues were generally addressed on a per need basis specific to various departments or facilities.

But last week, PHCS Board of Trustees approved the system's first strategic plan that maps out the future for its clinical care, operations, and facilities for the next five to 10 years.

However, with a separate, independent task force that comprises hospital and municipal officials assembled to explore the capabilities of the current and potential future sites of the hospital, how will PCHS' own strategic plan accurately reflect the future of the facility?

Barry Rabner, PCHS president and CEO, told Town Topics that the plan essentially looks at all aspects of the system without coming to a final conclusion of the ultimate location of the hospital.

"We went into this plan knowing the future is unknowable, but that we had to do our best in making some assumptions," he said.

Nevertheless, the plan reflects the direction and growth of the various PHCS programs and departments, which include Princeton House Behavioral Health, Merwick Rehab Hospital and Nursing Care, Princeton HomeCare Services, and the Princeton Surgical Center.

Carol Norris, PHCS' vice president of marketing and public affairs cited "significant" growth in maternity and emergency departments, sleep center, and general and orthopedic surgical units.

New services added in the past year include maternal/fetal medicine for women with high-risk pregnancies, on-site pediatric sub-specialty care, on-call neurosurgery coverage for the emergency department, and bariatric surgery, which deals with the treatment of obesity.

Finally, the hospital's Breast Health Center is scheduled to open early next year, Ms. Norris said. PHCS has performed intense fundraising including appropriating the proceeds from this year's Fete to go toward the center.

Ultimately, the plan does not recommend whether the hospital should build on its seven-acre site on Witherspoon Street or vacate the premises in favor of a comprehensive campus that includes, ideally taking up 50 acres, in a surrounding municipality that would house all the facilities of PHCS.

The task force of municipal officials is currently reviewing the goals put forth in the hospital's plan, and will address them at its second meeting set for the end of the month. That task force, known as the HealthCare Task Force, was created to provide a public forum for the hospital to present its strategic plan.

"The plan that the board approved basically went as far as the idea of relocating or replacing the hospital on this campus, but no decision was made on [moving]," Ms. Norris said.

"That's to come, basically," she added.

Mr. Rabner emphasized the "inclusiveness" of the process in seeing which programs and services held the greatest demand within the community.

Another part of the process, he said, was to give an understanding of PCHS' direction to the communities it serves. A regional hospital, the University Medical Center of Princeton's primary service area stretches as far as Jamesburg, Hightstown, Pennington, and Skillman. Its secondary service area extends from Trenton to Somerset.

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