Posted February 5th 2013 at 10:14 pm by
in Hospitals as Neighbors

In Struggling Cities Hospitals May Leave, Not Build

“If hospitals see few assets they can tap into in a community, cities like Trenton, New Jersey risk having these institutions leave.”

About fifteen months ago, Capital Health Systems closed its acute care Mercer campus in Trenton, New Jersey and opened a new $530 million hospital in the wealthier suburb of Hopewell, just six miles away. The 16-acre Mercer campus is now empty except for a satellite ER, family health center, and some office space. From my perspective, the Capital Health reconfiguration reveals why an anchor-based model of community development is challenging in cities where many families can’t pay for services, where high crime (or perceptions of high crime) dissuade outside patients and investors, and where institutional partnerships are weak.

The rooftop gardens, spa, and other amenities at the new Hopewell campus are designed to attract wealthier, insured patients who will help cross-subsidize services to uninsured patients from Trenton and elsewhere. The only other full-service hospita in Trenton, St. Francis Medical Center, saw a 15% rise in ER patients in the six months following Capital Health’s departure.

Capital Health has made neighborly gestures, providing free shuttle service to Hopewell and investing $100 million in a smaller Trenton hospital showcasing specialized neurology, trauma, and cardiovascular care. However, it has been unable to find investors for the Mercer campus, which sits like a decaying fenced-off island across from an elementary school, raising public safety concerns. The planning firm the City hired to evaluate the site has yet to release results.

If hospitals see few assets they can tap into in a community, cities like Trenton risk having these institutions leave. Our job is to strengthen local partnerships that can lead to mutual asset-building – something that institutions can anchor themselves to. Capital Health could be a critical economic development partner –  it procured over $70 million in Mercer County business contracts to build the Hopewell facility –  but Trenton will still get the short end of that stick.

Tiana Thomas is a MPA candidate at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. She is currently taking a year out to work in community development in Trenton, New Jersey. Reach her on Twitter at @eqtiana.

Read the whole “Hospitals as Neighbors” collection:

Cleveland’s Forward-thinking Hospitals by Steven D. Standley of Cleveland, Ohio

What Boston Neighborhoods Want by Juan Leyton of Boston, Massachusetts

New IRS Regulations Create Opportunity by Dayna Cunningham of MIT

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