After nearly 4 hours, Bayonne council tables eminent domain plans for local hospital

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In their first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, the Bayonne City Council voted to table eminent domain plans for the land their local hospital sits on.

“The process you’re beginning is to change the name on the deed to the City of Bayonne. Technically, the [Hudson County] Improvement Authority where the City of Bayonne would be the receiver of that after the debt was paid,” explained Joe DeMarco, a former city business administrator who now serves a special counsel.

“Who gets it and how you get to pick an operator is a whole ‘nother story, we’re not at that chapter yet.”

DeMarco also cautioned the council on voting on the two related ordinances to begin the $95 million eminent domain process for the BMC property, currently owned by Hudson Regional Hospital, since the Local Finance Board in Trenton must hear the matter first and that hasn’t happened yet.

While that sounded like a solid indicator that the council would balk at voting on the matter at hand last night, that didn’t curtail a public portion session that lasted for around three-and-a-half hours.

“We have communicated, over and over and over, to Mayor [Jimmy] Davis. We’ve asked for meetings over and over and over. Give us the opportunity to talk to you about all the things that we’re willing to do for this hospital and this town,” said HRH President and CEO Dr. Nizar Kifaieh.

He alleged that Davis told them last year that if they could reach a deal with the BMC property owner at the time, Avery Eisenreich, eminent domain could be avoided and they stood a great chance at becoming the hospital operator.

Despite acquiring the land, Kifaieh said the mayor didn’t follow through on his word and suddenly began vocalizing support for BMC Hospital LLC.

According to Bayonne Medical Center Chief Hospital Executive Dr. Vijayant Singh, said their hospital “has been held hostage” since the parcel of land it sits on has been used as “a point of leverage.”

HRH and BMC Hospital have been engaged in a bitter battle over who will take over the hospital from CarePoint, though like Kifaieh, BMC Hospital LLC President Wayne Hatami said it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

“We went into a fair bidding process, we met with CarePoint, we had multiple discussions, and they eventually agreed to giving us the bid to buy this hospital. We had no reason to believe that there was any discussions that we didn’t know of.”

In June, both HRH and BMC nearly simultaneously announced they had come to turn to run the Bayonne Medical Center but have remained in a standoff ever since.

The $95 million eminent domain plan, which DeMarco said could end up costing closer to $120 million, was not popular among some taxpayers, even though BMC had said they would cover the debt costs related to the land takeover.

“For the mayor, this is about preserving political power while the worst part about it is he’s willing to saddle the taxpayers, you guys, the ones that voted for him, with $100 million in new debt – for absolutely no reason,” said resident Peter Franco, a frequent Davis critic.

Others though said they felt eminent domain was the only viable option to keep the hospital open, pushing back on the narrative that what happened when Hoboken took over their hospital about a decade ago could happen in Bayonne.

“This is not Hoboken … nobody wanted to operate the Hoboken hospital. Here, we have two, I believe we do have two genuinely sincere groups of parties. As you stated, we’re not here to decide winners or losers, and how this is framed when we go outside I think is very important so vote yes on eminent domain,” stated resident George Ramirez.

Kirat Kharode, a former CarePoint executive who is now the CEO of HealCo, had a different perspective, believing that this administration brought this situation upon themselves by allowing Barnabas Health to open a satellite location (the plan began under the previous administration).

He also noted that they hadn’t considered declaring the land blighted and selling to a developer.

After the public session concluded, 3rd Ward Councilman Gary La Pelusa, the only elected who was on the council the last time they had to consider how to save their hospital about 10 years ago, indicated that based on his experiences, there simply was not enough information available to cast a yes or no vote at this tine.

“I need to hear a lot more information. Having been through this process before, I can tell you there’s no easy answer for anything concerning the hospitals continued viability. There’s no easy answers at all. We don’t have enough details to vote for or against eminent domain.”

He then made a motion to table the first ordinance, which passed unanimously (5-0). Council President Sharon Nadrowski said she agreed with La Pelusa, though thought more honest negotiations could be had without the threat of eminent domain on the table.

” … I do agree it needs to be tabled but I wish that it wasn’t with the threat of eminent domain because this council needs to be provided a lot more information. If the city brings something like this, there should be some information.”

The second related ordinance was also tabled unanimously (5-0).