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

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

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, has been signed into law.

The bill (A-3951) came 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 legislature originally sent the bill to Gov. Christie in June. He conditionally vetoed it just two weeks ago with changes that the legislature signed off on last week, which 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; and removing the hospital's chief executive officer as a nonvoting class IV member, and instead providing for two nonvoting class IV appointed by the Commissioner of Community Affairs. 

"The incidents we have heard about are deeply troubling and show a serious lapse in oversight," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "While this law does not achieve every objective we would have liked, 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."

"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 law 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 new law (S-2361/A-3951) amends the "Municipal Hospital Authority Law" 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." Previously, this law was only available to municipalities that are classified as cities pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:6-4. 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. 

The law provides that despite the existence of a management entity, the hospital authority would remain primarily responsible for operating the county hospital.
The law also specifies the composition and manner of appointment of members to boards of local hospital authorities. Additionally, the law provides that the Governor 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 new law will supplement previous 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 law 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.