‘Surrounded by monsters,’ N.J. hospital charts path to success

Not so long ago, what was then called the Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center was a place that time – and most of Hudson County – forgot. The aging building on Meadowlands Parkway in Secaucus had a well-earned reputation for poor management and some of the highest prices in the country.

Today, the facility has a new owner, new leadership, and a new name, Hudson Regional Hospital. Now comes the tough part: persuading nearby businesses, doctors and prospective patients that the new HRH can be an affordable, high-quality health care partner.

“The goal is to make Hudson Regional Hospital a true community hospital,” said HRH President and CEO Nizar Kifaieh. “We understood there was a huge undertaking ahead of us, the biggest of which was reputation management. So we worked closely together on a lot of different initiatives to transform the institution.”

Kifaieh, a former executive at CarePoint Health who has both an M.D. degree and a master’s degree in business administration, met with The Jersey Journal at the hospital last week. He was joined by Chief Nursing Officer Felicia Karsos, who had served as president and CEO under the hospital’s former owners.

The previous owners had drawn the ire of state health officials and racked up thousands of dollars in fines for overdue financial reports. When Yan Moshe, a developer who owns two surgery centers in Bergen County, took over on Jan. 1, one of his first moves was to hire Kifaieh.

Kifaieh’s task is simple, if not overwhelming: to make HRH a viable option as an independently-owned institution competing against the likes of RWJBarnabas Health’s Jersey City Medical Center, CarePoint Health’s three Hudson County hospitals, and Palisades Medical Center, part of the Hackensack Meridian Health system.

“We are surrounded by monsters,” Kifaieh said. “Big systems are engulfing everything in front of them.”

So the 204-bed Hudson Regional says it will carve out a niche, not only survive but thrive.

“We don’t want to specialize in everything out there. We want to be known for a certain, specific thing,” Kifaieh explained. “What you see in the bigger systems is they all want to be known for everything from podiatry to brain surgery. … The smart thing to do is to figure out a niche for us that is going to serve community No. 1 and is going to make us successful.”

The hospital administration sees opportunity in some areas: women’s and children’s services, including obstetrics and gynecology; minimally invasive spine surgery and joint replacement surgery; and general surgery.

An essential step toward achieving those opportunities is a stronger working relationship with Riverside Medical Group, the large primary-care and specialty group that’s headquartered a couple of blocks away. Today, most Riverside patients choose other hospitals over HRH – something Kifaieh hopes to change.

“All of their patients leave town, which doesn’t make any sense, whether it be OB, family medicine, pediatrics,” he said. “We want to be able to provide that continuity of care.”

Officials with North Hudson Community Action Corp. recently toured the hospital and came away “impressed with their plans for change and improvement, especially for women’s services,” NHCAC President and CEO Joan Quigley said.

There is no current relationship between NHCAC, a non-profit health and social services provider, and the hospital, but Quigley said the HRH is being added to the NHCAC list of resources.

Kifaieh sees mental, behavioral and substance abuse programs as “a huge area of opportunity” for the hospital – especially since HRH has so many available beds. The Meadowlands Parkway building is licensed to hold more than 200 patients, but currently has fewer than 60 beds occupied on a typical day.

“There is a huge lack in the area,” he said. “We are thinking about the full spectrum of care as it relates to the dual diagnosis, addiction plus behavioral health – inpatient and outpatient care.”

The hospital has also invested in technology with the acquisition of state-of-the-art DaVinci and Globus robotic surgical equipment. The 1970s building is busy with construction, including work on a new main lobby and a new Emergency Department Kifaieh said, noting that HRH has spent roughly $8 million this year on improvements, renovations, and upgrades.

The Emergency Department is also a key component in Hudson Regional Hospital’s future since an emergency room visit plays a role in shaping a person’s opinion of the entire hospital.

“The reputation has been more than challenging,” said Kifaieh. “We brought in new physicians who are very well qualified, who are focused from arrival to bedside triage, so we have appropriate turnaround time.”

The hospital is on pace to see 14,000 patients in the ER this year and Karsos, the chief nursing officer, boasted that there is no wait time. Kifaieh noted that the turnaround time, from the moment patients arrive at the time they are seen by an ER doctor, is averaging 20 minutes.

If changing the hospital’s name was the first step in the hospital’s comeback, agreeing to a new contract with the health care workers’ union and signing in-network contracts with significant insurers were steps two and three. Both of those objectives are now complete.

“Some health care providers think they could make more money by being out of network,” Kifaieh said. “We realize that’s not a long-term strategy. We want to be community- and patient- and physician-friendly. I don’t want complaints from patients with a huge bill saying, ‘Why are you coming after me?’ We are here to stay so we want a strategy that works in the long run.”

Kifaieh wasn’t ready to name names, but he doesn’t see the Hudson County hospital landscape staying the same for long. He pointed to the out-of-network business model and the increased cost of health care as a couple of catalysts for change.

“All six hospitals won’t be in business,” he said. “This whole out-of-network law is going to affect people.”

Kifaieh says Hudson Regional Hospital, despite not having the big-hospital resources, will compete with the other Hudson County hospitals.

“Excellent care and excellent options is our goal,” he said. “We are not just a convenient hospital in your backyard. We are going to be your No. 1 choice.”

Note: This article was published in the November 26, 2018 edition of  The Jersey Journal

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