5/7/2008:

No, not a new Disney animated movie, but real life politics and shenanigans!

It’s highly recommended that you read this whole article to get the “truth” to the spin being “spewed” out of city hall.

Roberts attacks Mason on Hospital Lawsuit

harvey-holzberg-mayor-david-roberts-humc-hospital-hoboken.jpgWas the attempt to save St. Mary Hospital a “Miracle” or a financial “House of Cards” about to fall?

No one can tell for sure since the Hoboken University Medical Center keeps its books closed to the public that could be left holding the tab. The battle to open them up goes from a courtroom to the Hoboken City Council meeting tonight as Mayor David Roberts once again takes aim at Councilwoman Beth Mason.

15 months ago Hoboken taxpayers guaranteed a $52 million bond to “save” the financially crippled St. Mary Hospital. The board of the Hoboken Municipal Hospital Authority was hand picked by Roberts. Not long after it was formed, the HMHA declared itself exempt from the Open Public Record Act and denied members of the public from seeing detailed finances. This even though the public guaranteed the HMHA’s credit and the city would be forced to deal with the Hospital and its employees should it fail. Sound suspicious to you?

Concerned about where all this was headed (especially since Mayor Roberts kept saying he could always up-zone the hospital for condos if they couldn’t make it work) then-citizen Beth Mason sued to get the books open. Click here to Read Hoboken411’s coverage of that debate, including the pros and cons of the bailout as described to the NJ Department of Community Affairs.

HMHA refuses to settle suits

hoboken-ruben-ramos-headshot-humc.jpgWith the State cutting aid to hospitals, and more teetering on the brink of failure every day, there is a new effort to whitewash HUMC and silence Mason ( Download PDF Here). This time it comes from Councilman (and Assemblyman) Ruben Ramos in the form of a City Council Resolution Demanding Councilwoman Elizabeth Mason drop her lawsuit against the Hoboken Municipal Hospital Authority.” (screenshot)

Here is the second ward councilwoman’s reaction to the resolution, and update on where Hoboken stands with its Hospital:

What are they trying to hide?

Hoboken Beth Mason HUMC LawsuitsMASON SAYS MAYOR IS TRYING TO SHORT CIRCUIT FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE INTO HOBOKEN UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER
Council Resolution Is Misguided Attempt to Thwart Mason Inquiry Into Operations

A resolution added to this week’s Hoboken City Council agenda targeted at Councilwoman Beth Mason’s attempts to uncover financial dealings at the authority that oversees the Hoboken University Medical Center (HUMC) is a blatant attempt by Mayor David Roberts to mislead the city council and the taxpayers of Hoboken, says Mason. The resolution demands that Mason stop pursuing the financial records of the hospital authority arguing that her inquiry into the hospital’s finance will “disrupt the authority.”

Read the rest of this political debacle after the jump…

(Roberts ATTACKS Mason, continued…)

Mason says the resolution is merely an attempt by a desperate mayor to shield the authority he created from public scrutiny and to keep the council in the dark. Recently the authority, handpicked by the mayor and political insiders — has declared that Hoboken Hospital is an economic miracle. Yet, the authority has failed to certify this miracle with any financial facts brought to the council,” said Mason.

“The facts that we do know for sure is that the authority was formed without public consent and borrowed $52 million that the taxpayers are responsible for if the hospital fails – and the taxpayers were never given the opportunity to decide if they wanted to put $52 million of their money at risk on a failing hospital,” added Mason.

Mason notes that she has attempted to settle her public access litigation with the hospital several times over the last few months and that each settlement was declined by the authority. “I’m not the one prolonging the litigation, the authority is. You have to ask yourself why? What don’t they want to admit or disclose?”

Court Battle Continues

gavel.gifOver the past two weeks, attorneys for the authority and Mason have been embroiled in a contentious court case over illegal meetings and operation of the authority. Mason said that Mayor Roberts does not like the way the hearings are going and is desperately trying to prevent a ruling against the authority that would force the authority to reveal its finances and how it spends money.

“The mayor’s PR campaign for the authority is to declare that the hospital pulled off a financial miracle, but there are no facts to support that claim. Now the mayor is trying to hoodwink the council into supporting the miracle claim. Yet, not one member of the city council knows the real financial health of the hospital or how the authority is spending its money,” said Mason. “If any council member has seen the hospital’s financial records and can state with certainty that the hospital is indeed a financial miracle and that the public’s $52 million investment is safe, I hope they come to the meeting prepared to show us the documents.”

Mason said according to court testimony, the authority seems to be operating without adequate staff and with a secretary who testified she routinely shreds documents of the hospital’s CEO, Harvey Holzberg, who pulls down an $800,000 a year salary – a figure Mason said is astounding given the finances of the hospital. Holzberg was the former CEO of the University of Medicine and Dentistry which was the subject of an intensive federal investigation for fraud and misappropriation of funds.

Mason said there is plenty of reason to be concern about the hospital’s ability to meet its payroll and other obligations when urban hospitals throughout the nation are facing a financial crisis.

Evaluation of Hospital Finances

Mason, a business consultant, pointed to a recent nationwide hospital evaluation by Alvarez & Marsal Healthcare Industry Group — one of the nation’s leading healthcare restructuring firms, which published its 2007 study of hospitals across the nation in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal. The study found that more than half of short-term acute-care hospitals in the United States are technically insolvent or at risk of insolvency

The report noted that: “As states and municipalities begin to limit spending in the face of slumping tax revenues and a weakening economy, the financial health of many hospitals is likely to further deteriorate. Many will encounter serious liquidity crises and face the prospect of radically.”

George Pillari, a managing director of the health care group at Alvarez & Marsal, said, “We’re seeing hospital insolvencies and hospital bankruptcies — it’s the heyday right now,” adding, “We’re going to see continued insolvencies; we’re going to see more bankruptcies this year than last year.”

Mason –- applying the Alvarez methodology to the financial information that is available about Hoboken University Medical Center — found the hospital most likely is in the bottom fifth of hospitals in the nation.

Mason estimates that for the year ended December 31, 2007 — the Hoboken Medical Center lost $38 million – before subsidies from the state and federal government. Mason estimates that part of the reason for the big 2007 loss is that expenses were $8 million more than budgeted. Half the over-expenditures went to overpayments for salaries ($4 million) and the rest taken up by supplies ($3 million) and non-professional fees ($1.5 million). Mason noted that the former St. Mary Hospital owner, Bon Secours, was supposed to give almost $12 million to the authority, but actually gave only $7 million.

Mason notes that with Gov. Jon Corzine trying to trim the state’s budget by cutting subsidies to hospitals – the long term fiscal prognosis of Hoboken hospital is not good. “If the hospital were a patient you would have to say that its long term prognosis is questionable,” said Mason. “How long can this institution go on relying on state and federal handouts at a time when the state is in a financial crisis and federal government isn’t much better.”

“My main reason for seeking open public records information about the hospital is my concern about its operations and its ability to meet its payroll and other financial obligations. I am also very concerned that the hospital authority is able to protect the huge public investment made in the hospital,” said the councilwoman.

“The mayor and the hospital CEO can’t just declare an economic miracle and then stop public scrutiny into how the hospital operates.”

“We saw what happened with UMDNJ – and I am not suggesting anything that serious is occurring here — but the city council has an obligation to know how the authority is operating and to report its findings to the public. We can’t do that if the hospital authority wants to keep us in the dark.”

More on St. Mary/HUMC on Hoboken411:

hoboken-university-medical-center-construction-humc-2.JPG