For the past 19 years, the old Bergen Regional Medical Center, run by a for-profit Colorado company, came under fire for cutting staff and skimping on repairs. It had so many reported assaults on both patients and staff it was fined by the federal government for safety violations. That company’s contract expired in March. Now the state’s largest public hospital is re-opening under a new name and with new management. New Bridge Medical Center’s CEO Deborah Visconi and Bergen County Executive James Tedesco join Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.
Aron: Welcome, both of you. Jim Tedesco, you’re trying to transform a 100-year-old county hospital into something new. What?
Tedesco: A facility that’s going to help the people of Bergen County in many, many ways, Michael. We’re taking a 100-year-old facility and bringing in partners, Care Plus Bergen, to run the hospital for us, along with partners from Integrity House and Rutgers Biomedical to provide the services that the people of Bergen County need and want.
Aron: Is this a safety net hospital? Is it a hospital for the indigent? Is it a psychiatric hospital?
Tedesco: Michael, it’s a hospital for everybody. While the past hasn’t been quite what we wanted, the future is bright. What we’re planning to do, along with our new CEO and our new partners, is to bring a whole new continuum of care to the people of Bergen County and Northern New Jersey.
Aron: Is this the old Bergen Pines Hospital?
Tedesco: It’s the hospital that was named because there were pine trees throughout the facility. It became Bergen Regional and is now New Bridge Medical, or New Bridge Medical Center, which is the hospital itself. We’re very excited about bringing this quality care, not only to those that need it, the most needy, but we’re going to open this up and bring people from all over Bergen County and Northern New Jersey to this facility to get the best quality care that’s available.
Aron: Deborah, you were at Morristown Medical Center and now you’re switching over to be CEO of this new venture. How do you describe what you’re going to be presiding over?
Visconi: It’s innovative, it’s transformation and it’s much needed services that we’re going to be providing to our communities.
Aron: It’s been a for-profit hospital for the last 20 years or so. It’s going back to being a not-for-profit. What difference might that make?
Visconi: Well, it’s going to give us the ability to reinvest in facilities and invest in things that we might need as we go forward into the future in transforming the health care delivery system.
Aron: Jim, you’ve been working on this for a couple of years now, this didn’t just happen overnight. It just opened this week, however, right?
Tedesco: The new management took over on Sunday night, but this has been over a two year process. It started with bringing people together from the community to give us input. We formed a committee of people to help give us what their thoughts are and direction. We then sent out RFPs [requests for proposals]. We had seven groups submit. They were all outstanding proposals, but this one was set apart from the others.
Aron: Is this being not-for-profit, is that going to make a difference, do you think?
Tedesco: It’s going to make a huge difference because now the county will be able to see the money, will be able to control the money, will be able to take the money and reinvest it back into the people and into the facility. Again, this is about the people. One of the things that we want to do is expand the services that we’re going to provide there and this is going to help allow us to do that. Rutgers is going to provide us up to 50 doctors in the facility, which we had never had before, along with looking at bringing a veteran component. I met with the director of the Veterans Administration in New Jersey and it looks like we’re going to be able to partner with them to do diagnostic work and some other type of work there for the veterans so that we can improve their quality of life, and not have to take so much time out of their day to go and get the health care they need.
Aron: How many beds are going to be in this hospital?
Visconi: We have 1,070 beds.
Aron: The largest public hospital in the state?
Visconi: In the state, and the fourth largest in the country.
Aron: How much of the focus is going to be on substance abuse?
Visconi: One part of it. It’s one of our key service lines. We’re collaborating with our partners at Integrity House, so a part of what we’re going to be offering as our key services is substance abuse.
Aron: What kind of reception has this move gotten around the county?
Visconi: Outstanding. I mean, from the inside out, the employees are completely engaged. Our providers in the community are just very excited about the new leadership and our spirit of engagement, and collaboration and community partnerships.
Aron: If I walked into the hospital last week and I walked in this week, would I notice any difference except a new sign, maybe?
Visconi: There’s new signs everywhere, there’s new colors, new logos, a new spirit, a freshness about some of the public areas of the facility, and a very engaged and happy staff.
Aron: What do you hope it looks like in two or three years?
Tedesco: Michael, I’m very confident that it’s going to look like any other major medical center in New Jersey. We’re going to be able to show and let people know that this is the highest quality heath care facility anywhere around. And we’re going to partner with the other health care providers within the county to continue to provide that care. Again, we’re not going to be a cancer center, we’re going to be a hospital that focuses on mental health issues, opioid and addiction services. We’re going to provide additional and greater acute care services and veteran services. We know we have 570 long-term care beds there. Those are the things that we’re going to focus on and bring that quality of care to those, and then take in new and more people so that we can be that provider for those folks that want to take advantage of the good services we’re going to have.
Aron: Jim Tedesco, Deborah Visconi, thank you both very much.