Christie Signs Bill Into Law Boosting Oversight At Bergen Regional

Jerry DeMarco, Paramus Daily Voice

PARAMUS, N.J. -- A hospital authority will ensure proper oversight and quality of care at Bergen Regional Medical Center in response to allegations of violence against patients and staff, state lawmakers said Wednesday, thanks to a bill signed into law by Gov. Christie.

“The incidents we have heard about are deeply troubling and show a serious lapse in oversight,” said state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the measure's several co-sponsors.

The move comes in response to hundreds of reports filed with police of alleged assaults and a federal investigation prompted by attacks on workers at the state's largest hospial (1,000 beds), which is owned by Bergen County but operated by a private for-profit company.

BRMC provides long-term care, psychiatric and substance-abuse treatment and acute care.

“While this law does not achieve every objective we would have liked," Vainieri Huttle said, "it still protects our overarching goal, which is creating an entity solely dedicated to the management of the hospital so that, at the end of the day, staff can provide the level of services that will ensure patients receive the care they need.”

Other Democratic co-sponsors in the state Assembly from Bergen/Passaic, with their comments:

Assemblyman Joseph Lagana: “As the state’s largest hospital, Bergen Regional is responsible for the care of a great number of patients who deserve better than what was alleged in that report. This law will help curtail the mismanagement that allowed such unsafe occurrences to persist.”

Assemblyman Eustace: “The poor oversight at the hospital allowed these incidents to go unchecked for too long. Allowing the county to create a hospital authority to manage the hospital will help ensure accountability and provide a safer environment for patients and staff.”

Assemblywoman Caride: “We cannot have a hospital responsible for treating some of the most vulnerable patients running amok. This will help provide the necessary oversight to bCaride (D-Bergen/Passaic)etter protect patients and staff and prevent such unfortunate incidents from happening again.”

Christie two week ago conditionally vetoed a version of the bill sent to him by the state Legislature in June.

The Legislature, in turn, approved changes made by the governor that include:

  • deleting provisions that concern prevailing wage and project labor agreements;
  • deleting a provision that required the advice and consent of the Senate for the Governor’s appointee to the board of a local hospital authority;
  • removing the hospital’s chief executive officer as a nonvoting class IV member -- and instead providing for two non-voting Class IVs appointed by the commissioner of Community Affairs.

The new law will allow a county that owns an 800-bed hospital to create a hospital authority. The purpose of a county hospital authority would be to operate and maintain a county hospital for the county.

Under the law, a county hospital authority may exercise its powers and duties to manage, operate, and maintain a county hospital through a contract or contracts with a manager.

The law provides that management contracts are entered into by competitive contracting pursuant to the "Local Public Contracts Law," P.L.1971, c.198 (C.40A:11-1 et seq.). Management contracts could be entered into for a 20-year term, and could be renewed for two five-year terms.

Despite the existence of a management entity, the hospital authority would remain primarily responsible for operating the county hospital, under the new law.

It also specifies the composition and manner of appointment of members to boards of local hospital authorities.

The governor appoints an individual to the board of directors of each entity that contracts with a local hospital authority to operate and manage a hospital, uner the measure.

The gubernatorial appointee would be a physician who is licensed to practice medicine and surgery in the state and who is knowledgeable about, or has clinical experience in, the field of chemical dependency or addiction-oriented psychiatry.