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Op-Ed: A Hospital Makes a Community – In Ways Outsiders Can’t Understand

In St. Michael’s case, it’s a community that extends far beyond the borders of greater Newark

alexander salerno
Dr. Alexander Salerno

Since its inception in 1867, Saint Michael’s Medical Center has been a pillar of the Newark community.

When other hospitals picked up and moved to more desirable ZIP codes, Saint Michael’s chose not to abandon its community.

When the civil disturbance in the summer of 1967 nearly brought the city to ashes, Saint Michael’s rose through the ashes to help rebuild and heal the community.

Saint Michael’s is the oldest established hospital in Newark, a city that is once again vibrant and growing both residentially as well as commercially. We need Saint Michael’s now more than ever.

Yet a group of consultants who neither live in nor work in the greater Newark Area has recommended decommissioning our hospital.

What adds insult to injury is many of the conclusions these consultants came to were based on data from 2012 and 2013. How can one make a decision on the fate of a hospital based on outdated data? Decisions should be based on current data and trends that demonstrate fiscal viability and opportunity.

Our country was founded on the freedom to choose. But without Saint Michael’s, Newark residents would effectively have no choice for healthcare other than one hospital/healthcare system.

Imagine the state’s largest city only having one healthcare system to serve all its residents and the 100,000 daily commuters who come to work in the city everyday.

It is ironic that a city as racially diverse as Newark can at the same time have a “one-size-fits-all” hospital. Can you imagine life with just one cellphone carrier, one airline, one bank? Can you imagine the unchecked elixir of power that can result in the loss of checks and balances that come with having hospitals compete.

If Saint Michael’s were to close, Newark would lose a hospital that is deeply rooted in the community. In recent years, when healthcare think tanks were coining phrases like “population health” and “chronic disease state awareness and management,” Saint Michael’s was practicing it.

Saint Michael’s realized that a community hospital must extend outside its brick and mortar to fulfill its promise and mission to its family of citizens.

For more than a decade, Saint Michael’s has supported the Senior Health Outreach Program that has brought health care into the homes of urban community seniors and home bound patients.

While other hospitals expect patients to come to them, Saint Michael’s realizes that is not enough to serve the community. Healthcare needs to be delivered in senior housings developments, low-income housing developments, in behavioral health centers, in churches and congregations. This is what a community hospital does; it creates programs that go out into the community and serve its people.

Saint Michael’s reach extends well beyond Newark into surrounding communities in Essex, Bergen, Union, and Hudson counties. When a soup kitchen in Montclair needed services for its clients, it was Saint Michael’s and one of its community programs that stepped in to provide the needed care.

Can you imagine a hospital that goes out to help the poor and less fortunate? When most hospitals fear the uninsured that enter their doors, Saint Michael’s actually seeks and serves them outside of its four walls.

Closing a hospital is closing the door and turning your backs on a community and on history. New Jersey history is rooted in being pivotal in the American Revolution and the victory of American colonists. Isn’t it ironic those same battles that sought to secure freedoms and democracy are now being threatened by a different battle?

This isn’t about politics, this isn’t about bashing other healthcare systems. Saving Saint Michael’s is about securing fundamental democratic rights and freedoms, including freedom of choice. We all have a fiduciary obligation, from elected politicians to citizens at large, to protect and preserve our God-given freedom.

To date there are well over 19,000 signatures from residents of Newark and surrounding communities who are asking our elected political officials to protect and preserve our wishes and hopes of a Newark community that can still maintain a choice in our healthcare. So please hear us and serve us.

Alexander Salerno, M.D./M.H.A., is a board-certified second-generation internist who has been affiliated with Saint Michael’s Medical Center since 2002. He is the founder of the Senior Health Outreach Program and the Urban Healthcare Initiative Program whose focus has been on population health and bridging disparities in healthcare outcomes.

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