Vainieri Huttle, Lagana, Eustace & Caride Bill to Provide Better Oversight at Bergen Regional Medical Center Clears Committee

Legislation Prompted by Reports of Violence against Patients and Staff; Weak Oversight at New Jersey's Largest Hospital

(TRENTON) - An Assembly panel on Thursday released legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joseph Lagana, Tim Eustace and Marlene Caride to allow Bergen County to create a hospital authority to ensure proper oversight and quality of care at Bergen Regional Medical Center, which has been besieged by allegations of violence against patients and staff.

The bill (A-3951) is in response to a media report that revealed hundreds of alleged assaults logged by Bergen County Police and a federal investigation prompted by attacks on eight workers at the Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus. The hospital, which provides long-term care, psychiatric and substance-abuse treatment and acute care, is owned by Bergen County but operated by a private for-profit company. The hospital is the largest hospital in the state with 1,000 beds. 

"The incidents cited are deeply troubling and show a serious lapse in oversight," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Creating an entity solely dedicated to the management of the hospital will help ensure that staff can provide and patients can receive the care they need."

"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," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This bill will help curtail the mismanagement that allowed such unsafe occurrences to persist."

"The poor oversight at the hospital allowed these incidents to go unchecked for too long," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "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."

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

The bill (A-3951) would amend the "Municipal Hospital Authority Law," P.L.2006, c.46 (C.30:9-23.15 et al.), to allow certain counties to create a hospital authority. In so doing, the bill would change the title of the law to be the "Local Hospital Authority Law." Currently, this law is only available to municipalities that are classified as cities pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:6-4. The bill would 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 bill, 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 bill 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. 

The bill provides that despite the existence of a management entity, the hospital authority would remain primarily responsible for operating the county hospital.

The bill also specifies the composition and manner of appointment of members to boards of local hospital authorities. Additionally, the bill provides that the Governor would appoint an individual to the board of directors of each entity which contracts with a local hospital authority to operate and manage a hospital. 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.

The bill would supplement current law by authorizing a county hospital authority to enter into a public-private partnership agreement with a private entity to undertake certain types of projects to benefit a county hospital. This section of the bill is based on a provision of current law that allows a state or a county college to enter into a public-private partnership contract with a private entity.

The measure was released by the Assembly Budget Committee and is expected to go before the full Assembly on Monday.