The Hudson County Improvement Authority’s bid to buy out stakeholders at Christ Hospital is in the works and there’s talk that Jersey City could foot some of the bill for the eminent domain proceedings.
Next week, the city council will vote on a resolution to contribute $10,000 to reimburse Hudson County for evaluating the Christ Hospital properties. That payment raises questions about whether the city will chip in for more of the expenses related to the eminent domain proceedings in in the future.
The money would be an “initial deposit” used to reimburse the authority under the terms of the resolution. It would be for “all professional charges incurred in connection with the evaluation of the acquisition of the medical center and negotiations with the interested parties and/or preparation of any agreements and undertaking research relating thereto.”
City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said in an email that the resolution seemed to leave open the possibility of using city funds for the eminent domain proceedings.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only brought more awareness to the importance of Christ Hospital serving Jersey City,” Wallace-Scalcione said. “The Mayor is committed to protecting Christ Hospital, and we are partnering with the county to use all the tools we have at our disposal.”
Last month, Hoboken’s city council passed a nearly identical resolution to contribute $10,000 toward an eminent domain evaluation. But city spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri said there were no plans to contribute towards a larger payout. “The city does not intend to utilize funding for an eminent domain proceeding regarding the hospital,” Chaudhuri said.
Joyce Watterman, Jersey City Council President, said the city was just trying to help with the proceedings. This is due to the fact that the county is struggling financially. “Jersey City’s trying to do what it can do,” she said. But she continued her comments by saying that the city was only considering helping with the initial evaluation. The city council is still undecided about contributing to a possible eminent domain payout in the future.
“Let’s just do the first step,” she said. “You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew.”
Earlier this month the Hudson County Improvement Authority began the process of assessing the hospitals’ property value through eminent domain.
CarePoint Health has been trying to sell the three hospitals since last year. In October, RWJ Barnabas signed a letter of intent to buy Christ Hospital and Hoboken University Medical Center. And BMC Hospital, LLC, a group of healthcare investors, announced last month that it had finalized a deal to buy Bayonne Medical Center.
Of course, there is more to the story – there always is! The sales have been complicated by Alaris Health owner Avery Eisenreich. A month after CarePoint Health announced the sale of Christ and HUMC to RWJBarnabas, Eisenreich bought the property under Bayonne Medical Center and 70% of the land under Hoboken University Medical Center. He also owns 25% stakes in both the Christ Hospital land and operations.
Officials have accused Eisenreich of holding up the sales of the three hospitals through his land holdings. Last month, the county board of freeholders voted to begin eminent domain proceedings to buy out Eisenreich’s stakes.
Large eminent domain payouts would be a heavy burden on Hudson County, and if similar situations happen nationwide to local governments as they all deal with the financial fallout from the coronavirus.
CarePoint owns 11 Jersey City properties, in addition to Christ Hospital, that are associated with the acute care hospital. The properties were valued at $135 million in 2012.
Councilman-at-large James Solomon said the city’s $10,000 proposal was a sign of the importance of Christ Hospital. “Keeping the hospital in Jersey City is an important thing, so it made sense to me that the city would make a small contribution to the appraisal,” he said.
As for a larger contribution down the line, Solomon said he was open to discussions about it.
“From (a) overall health of the city perspective, it’s important that we have the hospital capacity,” said Solomon. “As we saw during COVID, we need it.”