CARNEYS POINT — A takeover of Salem Medical Center by Inspira Health Network is the best path to bolster the small community hospital’s staffing and finances, according to testimony from employees, residents and community leaders.
Announced late last year, a proposed merger between Inspira and SMC was opened for public comment on Wednesday before heading to Trenton for a decision by the state attorney general. If this decision is favorable, a state superior court is the next and final stage of review and proposal.
Joanna Rider-Bey, a nursing educator at Salem Community College, said she doesn’t want Mannington Hospital closed, but otherwise supports a takeover. She said she worked for both systems.
“I’m so looking forward to this merger,” Rider-Bey said. “Salem Community Hospital needs it. They have the best nursing staff I have ever seen. … We need it.”
Stakeholders at the hour-plus hearing consistently described a disastrous outcome without consolidation.
Salem County is a sparsely populated area, population approximately 65,000, and largely rural, with large amounts of agriculture. It also has large low-income populations and poor public transportation.
Inspira already operates the county’s other hospital in the Borough of Elmer, near Cumberland County. The health system also has two hospitals in Cumberland and one in Gloucester County, as well as an extensive network of related community facilities.
“The way health care is divided, and I know from the referral patterns, there’s kind of an ‘East’ Salem county and a ‘West’ Salem county,” Dr. Daniel Timmerman said, chief of surgery at Salem Medical Center. “We are on the west side of Salem County. The center line is Woodstown.
Timmerman said western residents generally live no more than 15 miles from Mannington Hospital on Route 45. Elmer Hospital is about 21 miles from Pennsville Township, the most populous community. and located along the Delaware River.
“So without this hospital where it’s located, we’re going to leave a lot of people in need of health care,” Timmerman said.
Salem Medical Center transitioned from a for-profit to a not-for-profit operation in February 2019. Salem County Hospital Corp. is the owner.
Hospital officials said public health mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic forced the center to stop offering many procedures. The loss of revenue was significant and has not been compensated, Torres said.
“Without this partnership, there is a strong possibility that there will be a health care desert in this county, compromising the health and access to care for our residents,” Torres said.
The proposed acquisition has the support of state legislators in the region. State Senator Edward Durr, a former longtime Salem County resident, and Assemblywomen Beth Swayer and Bethanne McCarthy all testified in support of the sale.
“I have two kids, so I’ve made many trips to the hospital,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer said both organizations have deep community roots dating back more than a century in South Jersey. She said their staff have often worked for both systems, their departments often overlap geographically, and Inspira has the ability to recruit and retain staff.
Sawyer said the centre’s nursing staff are his anchor and what brings the community together. “They deserve more stability and a clear vision for their future,” she said.
Sawyer said the center also needed help with its emergency department which Inspira, which operates five emergency departments, can provide.
Salem nurses belong to Health Professionals and Allied Employees Local 5412. The local is supportive of the merger, registered nurse Pamela Misenti said.
“Since we arranged our union with HPAE more than a decade ago, the staff has been through a living nightmare in the succession of owners,” Misenti said. “We have lost many employees and departments to poor management, suffered threats to our union status and worked in horrendous conditions.
“In fact, it took us until 2019 to finally settle our first union contract with the current owners,” Misenti said. “Who then immediately breached the contract.”
Misenti said the union hopes for a “positive relationship” with Inspira.
Wednesday’s hearing was a joint venture of the state Department of Law and Public Safety and the state Department of Health.
Along with representations from both hospital systems, the testimony from the public hearing will form a record that the state’s Attorney General will use to decide whether or not to recommend approval.
A state Superior Court judge makes the final decision, according to Kavin Mistry, associate director in the Law Division.
Mistry said the center would still be “a separate entity” after the merger.
Mistry said the acquisition review process began on Oct. 15, 2021, when Salem Medical Center notified the attorney general’s office of the proposed acquisition.
On July 7, the Attorney General determined that the hospital’s application was complete.
Joe Smith is a NE Philly native transplanted to South Jersey over 30 years ago, now keeping tabs on the South Jersey government. He is a former and current senior editor of the Daily Journal in Vineland, the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times.
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