Bill to create Bergen Regional oversight board advances in N.J. Assembly

BY SCOTT FALLON AND CHRISTOPHER MAAG BERGEN RECORD

A bill that would create an 11-member board to oversee embattled Bergen Regional Medical Center may soon be voted upon by the Legislature after it cleared a key panel Thursday.

The Assembly Budget Committee approved the measure calling for more oversight at the hospital which is under increased scrutiny following reports of alleged assaults at the state's largest medical center.

"The patients and staff at Bergen County Regional Medical Center deserve safe treatment in a safe environment,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, D-Englewood. “But current law does not give our county government the power to take an increased role in oversight."

The bill calls the new board to replace the hospital’s primary regulator, the Bergen County Improvement Authority, which has long complained its hands are tied in managing the for-profit company that runs the hospital because of a faulty contract drafted two decades ago.

The bill was written in response to a report published in The Record last month that revealed hundreds of alleged assaults at the 1,000-bed hospital in Paramus, which provides long-term care, psychiatric and substance abuse treatment and acute care.

Seniors were allegedly punched in the long-term care unit, staff and patients were allegedly injured in locked down psychiatric units, a 6-year-old girl was allegedly sexually assaulted, and a nurse reported being beaten so severely that she could not return to work for more than year, police reports from revealed.

The contract with the company that manages the hospital, Bergen Regional Medical Center LP, is set to expire in March 2017.

An identical bill was approved by a Senate committee last week. The bills will now head to both the full Assembly and Senate for consideration. There are two more voting sessions next week before the legislature’s summer recess.

County Executive James Tedesco testified to the Assembly committee today in support of the bill.

"This legislation ensures Bergen County will have appropriate oversight, a safe working environment for its care providers and sound fiscal management on behalf of the taxpayers,” said Tedesco, who would sit on the new board. "The hospital's services are needed more than ever for seniors, addicts and even children."

Email: fallon@northjersey.com and maag@northjersey.com