NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Only one of the city’s two major hospitals held public meetings in compliance with state law this year, according to the state Department of Health (DOH) website.
With just two days left to provide the required legal notice for a meeting taking place in 2020, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) is conspicuously missing from the state’s list of “annual” hospital meetings.
Hospitals are required to have one Board of Directors meeting each year that is open to the public, with financial information made available, opportunities for questions, and at least 25% of the the board present.
But no meeting date is listed for RWJUH, while a September 22 meeting for St. Peter’s Hospital is registered on the site maintained by the DOH’s Office of Health Care Financing.
RWJBarnabas had all of its hospitals across the state hold virtual meetings, publicized well in advance on the DOH website, so it’s curious why only the New Brunswick meeting hospital’s meeting was not properly noticed.
Rules were changed this year to allow for “virtual” meetings instead of gatherings at physical locations, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but significant public notice requirements remained in place.
Earlier this year, St. Peter’s agreed to join RWJBarnabas Health, the parent corporation of RWJUH, in a major business deal that several sources said was intended to secure support from the Catholic Church for other plans.
The two healthcare systems were willing to put aside their differences on the controversial issue of abortion to join in support of demolishing an active public school campus once owned by the Catholic Church.
The Church had a deed restriction on the Lincoln Annex School, formerly known as St. Peter’s. The restriction required the property to continue to be used a school or an administration building for 50 years when it sold the property to New Brunswick Board of Education in 2013.
But RWJUH had been eyeing the site for expansion, despite a $22 million investment from taxpayers to re-open the Catholic campus as a public school in 2016.
Mass protests erupted once the scheme was revealed, and members of the public started questioning the hospital CEO about the matter at last year’s annual meeting.
But this year the meeting came and went without the public knowing how to participate.
RWJUH insists they already held an annual public meeting on September 2, but admitted on November 24 that they forgot to notify the Department of Health, as required by law, and only did so after we started asking questions.
“RWJUH satisfied all internal and external notification requirements regarding the 2020 Annual Meeting prior to convening, with the exception of informing the NJ Department of Health,” said Peter Haigney, a longtime spokesperson for the hospital.
Because RWJUH neglected to send the mandatory notice to the Health Department, the meeting was never advertised on the state website, the only reliable place to check for these kinds of announcements.
“Once the omission was discovered, RWJUH immediately informed NJDOH and filed a deferred notification letter with them, pursuant to their instructions.”
Haigney declined to answer questions about who was responsible for the screw-up, when the hospital discovered the “omission,” and when it submitted the “deferred notification letter” to the state.
The Department of Health was even less forthcoming when questioned about the apparent violation of the law, going silent in the face of our inquiries.
Under Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, the DOH side-stepped a legal request for a copy of RWJUH’s annual meeting notice filed through the state’s antiquated Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request portal on November 2.
Three days later, the department’s “custodian of records” responded by directing this reporter to the same DOH website that still does not list any information about RWJUH’s annual meeting.
“This will respond to the referenced request for government records,” wrote Geneieve Raganelli, the department employee responsible for the denial of many pandemic-related requests for government information.
Raganelli has not responded to follow-up inquiries and a telephone message asking for further information.
This reporter copied the Attorney General of New Jersey after our initial inquiries received no response.
Two hours later, RWJUH admitted to the violation, and then declined to answer further questions.
“The statement stands as is,” said the hospital spokesman.
Persichilli has gone into a 10-day “quarantine” after a possible exposure to COVID-19.
Persichilli’s boss, Governor Phil Murphy, has dodged questions about the Lincoln Annex School closure throughout the pandemic.
When this reporter questioned the Governor about his broken promise to set up a meeting between his Acting Education Commissioner and concerned residents of New Brunswick, Murphy brushed it off.
“On Lincoln Annex School, I’ve got nothing new to add. I apologize,” Murphy said on November 12.
Editor’s Note: The author of this article has consistently opposed the sale and closure of Lincoln Annex School, after exposing the scheme in 2019.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.