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New Jersey: Community Fights to Keep Muhlenberg Hospital Open

By David Hungerford

People at winter protest with signs saying, Don't close Muhlenberg Hospital.

Plainfield, NJ – A move to close Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield, New Jersey has triggered a storm of protest. Plainfield would hardly be a city without the 125-year old Muhlenberg Hospital.

A rally was called for March 1 by Stephen Hatcher, chair of the Plainfield Branch of the People's Organization for Progress. Over 200 people responded. Marchers chanted, “Don't close Muhlenburg!” and “What's the word? Muhlenberg!!” Passing drivers blew their horns and waved their fists in support.

Community care hospitals are in crisis nationwide. The Newark area has seen the recent closing of four hospitals. Twelve hospitals in New Jersey are in immediate danger of closing. All 78 community care hospitals in New Jersey, the richest state in the country, are in danger.

The root of the problem is the ruthless profit motive of capitalism. Almost 50 million people in the United States go without health care coverage while 30 cents of every health care dollar goes for financial overhead. Health care is the largest sector of the economy. Even as it continues to get bigger the crisis gets worse.

The cost of care for the uninsured is borne mostly by community care hospitals. Plainfield Councilman Jerry Greene told the rally that the city had approached New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine for relief from $17 million in uninsured costs for Muhlenberg. The state only came up with $6.4 million. It is the same story everywhere.

Local activist Mary Zink said attempts to blame undocumented immigrant workers for the crisis are wrong. Everyone benefits from the value their work creates. Health care is a human right. The problem is insurance companies and health care corporations put profits first.

A 39-year veteran worker at Muhlenberg said she came here from Italy. She said this country belongs to everyone who comes here. Still, deficits come from care for the uninsured and only part of them are immigrants.

Rabbi Samber of the hospital's ethics committee said individual cases are the usual concern. He said maybe it is time for the committee to consider whether closing a hospital for financial reasons is ethical or moral. Many, including state POP Chairman Lawrence Hamm, spoke of the care their families and loved ones had received at Muhlenberg.

Mayor Sharon Briggs Robinson spoke at the protest, as did doctors and other staff members. About half the participants were black and half were white. All saw the power of the people that comes from unity. A joyful spirit of struggle arose.

Over a hundred people came to the follow-up meeting two days after the rally. Contact information for relevant New Jersey elected and appointed officials was provided. The timetable of the threatened closing will be found and publicized so that people will know where to voice their opposition.

The main decision made at the follow-up meeting was to bring thousands of people to the state capitol in Trenton on April 5 to oppose the closing. Money was collected for signs and posters. People volunteered to work on outreach in the community. Monday night meetings at DuCret will continue. There will be another rally at the hospital on March 15.

On to Trenton for April 5!

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