State monitor to be appointed for Christ Hospital in Jersey City

Amid fears that a toxic corporate battle could result in the closure of Christ Hospital in Jersey City, Gov. Phil Murphy has agreed to appoint a state monitor to oversee the daily finances of the 362-bed health care center.

Murphy’s action came in response to a letter from Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, seeking the state’s intervention after negotiations stalled over the possible acquisition of the 140-year-old hospital by one of the state’s largest health care networks.

“It has been brought to my attention that Christ Hospital and RWJ Barnabas are at an impasse, and it appears that the closing of Christ Hospital in Jersey City may be imminent,” Fulop wrote. “Should a closure occur, thousands of our residents may abruptly lose access to health care that has been available for generations. Furthermore, more than a thousand employees and their families face the prospect of losing employment.”

In announcing the move, Murphy’s office said the governor had directed the state Department of Health to provide the oversight. “Governor Murphy believes that all New Jerseyans deserve access to affordable, high-quality health care,” the administration said in a statement.

In October, CarePoint Health agreed in principle to sell Christ Hospital and Hoboken University Medical Center to RWJ Barnabas Health, which is also an underwriter of NJTV News. But the deal hit a snag after the nursing-home chain Alaris bought the Hoboken facility’s buildings and grounds.

In December, CarePoint sued Alaris in a Delaware court, claiming it had interfered with the sale agreement. And in a countersuit, Alaris alleged CarePoint had siphoned off profits from the hospitals. News then emerged last week that CarePoint’s deal with RWJBarnabas was off, prompting Fulop to fear CarePoint could declare bankruptcy and liquidate Christ Hospital.

“And so you’re kind of in this back and forth between two sides, pointing fingers at each other,” he said. “Our objective is to shed some sunlight on it, which has happened, and to make sure that the hospital doesn’t close. “

In his letter to Murphy, Fulop expressed optimism that a resolution was possible, with state oversight.

“I urge you, on behalf of the people of Jersey City, to immediately bring the parties together,” Fulop wrote. “I’m convinced that a resolution that saves the hospital and avoids the damaging impacts of closure are possible with the state’s leadership and engagement.”

Both Carepoint and RWJBarnabas said they welcomed the state’s involvement, and vowed to renew efforts to negotiate an agreement in good faith.

“Liquidation and closure shouldn’t be part of the conversation,” said Fulop, noting the city would not approve a rezoning of the Christ Hospital property for residential use. “We shouldn’t be scaring people with that. And hopefully CarePoint is respectful towards that.”

In November, CarePoint issued 2,700 layoff notices. And staffers and patients are both worried about the possibility that the hospital, which sees 47,000 patients a year, could close.

“There’s a degree of fear,” said Nicole Mankowski, a registered nurse who’s president of Local 5186 of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union. “Every day something else is coming out in the newspaper. I think that’s difficult.”

Mankowski also said the loss of Christ Hospital would hit the community hard.

“It is very, very much needed,” she said. “Hudson County is growing every day. And there are an enormous amount of sick and vulnerable people here.”

The sentiment was shared by Mounir Matar, who’s been a patient at the hospital.

“It’s always good to have a local hospital,” he said.