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New Jersey: Struggle to Save Muhlenberg Grows

By David Hungerford

Girls and boys in foreground, adults in background, protest to save hospital

Plainfield, NJ – A throng of 600 turned out here, March 15, to protest against the closing of Muhlenberg Hospital by its owner, Solaris Healthcare. A 250-person protest had already come out on March 1 at the call of the People's Organization for Progress.

The same mood of exuberant militancy prevailed. The crowd marched from the hospital down Park Avenue and back. Whole city blocks echoed to thunderous chants of, “Do not close,” “Muhlenberg yes, Solaris no,” and “We the people have spoken, keep it open!”

Again the big turnout was about evenly divided among Black and white people. Returning to the hospital parking lot to rally, the crowd chanted, “We are united!” A few began to sing the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome and all took it up, inspired by the power of the people that comes with unity.

Ostensibly the plan to close the hospital is because of deficits from indigent care. A hospital worker told Fight Back! that there had also been years of corruption and abuses in the hospital's finances. The worker also said management had threatened to fire any employee seen on the picket line. The hospital's director of security was prominently on the scene from the start. Still there were many hospital workers present.

Signs against the closing produced by POP are seen all over town. Some Latinos attended but not many in comparison to the city's population. Further efforts are still needed, such as bilingual leaflets and signs.

Muhlenberg social worker Carrie Barone told the rally, “They're coming for us today but they're coming for others tomorrow. The government has a plan to let hospitals die on the vine. We have a beautiful rainbow community in Plainfield and we're not going to let it happen here.” She mentioned nearby Overlook Hospital and JFK Hospital among those immediately threatened with closing. JFK also belongs to Solaris and is the supposed destination of patients displaced from Muhlenberg.

Hospital nurse Andrea Hughie, a POP member, told the rally that university hospitals could not replace community hospitals. She detailed the problems of determining which secondary hospitals will even receive emergency patients from outside communities, the problem of which hospital a given ambulance can go to and delays due to travel time, among other problems. She concluded that community hospitals must be preserved.

Many spoke against the practice of putting profits ahead of health care needs. Repeated criticisms of the war in Iraq were heard. Its costs are huge while people's needs at home are unmet.

More than 100 people have met Monday evenings at DuCret Art School to plan for an ongoing campaign to save the hospital. A rally in Trenton, the state capital, to demand that Muhlenberg remain in full operation will take place on Saturday, April 5. Thousands are expected.

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