The State Health Planning Board voted 5-1 Tuesday to recommend the Health Commissioner approve Hackensack University Medical Center's plan to revive the former Pascack Valley Hospital—which is currently in use as an ER facility—as a new 128-bed full-service hospital.
“It is nicer to be here saying 'yes' to opening a hospital than 'yes' to closing a hospital,” Board Chairperson Judy Donlen said, referring to the 2007 closing of the Pascack Valley Hospital.
Still, the board's vote does not mean the hospital has been approved. State Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd will need to approve the project before it can continue.
The board made their vote after listening to public comment from representatives from the Department of Health, HUMC, Valley Hospital, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, local politicians and residents at a meeting at the East Windsor Holiday Inn.
Supporters of the new facility cited the high hospital occupancy and low number of doctors in Bergen County and the difficulty of getting to other area hospitals because of Route 17, the Garden State Parkway and area railroads as reasons to reopen the facility under new management.
"Opening this hospital will give improved access to care," HUMC CEO and President Robert Garrett said. "It will save lives."
However, representatives from Valley Hospital and Englewood Medical Center said the area already has too many hospitals, including seven in a 12-mile radius of the former Pascack Valley Hospital, according to Englewood Medical Center CEO and President Doug Duchak.
"I predict there will be chaos in the County of Bergen as a result of this approval," Duchak said. "It's going to hurt us dramatically."
Garrett said that most of the new hospital's patients would be a combination of current HUMC patients, residents from the Pascack Valley area who can not easily reach other Bergen County hospitals and residents from nearby Rockland County, some of whom were patients at the Pascack Valley Hospital before it closed, and a smaller percentage of Englewood and Valley patients.
Westwood Mayor John Birkner said the hospital will create more jobs and bring businesses back to the area around Old Hook Road, which he said is an ideal location for the facility.
"The Westwood infrastructure is uniquely suitable to support this hospital project," Birkner said.