NJ developers repurpose closed hospitals as "medical malls"

Closed hospitals in New Jersey are no longer abandoned buildings thanks to developers who purchase and reopen them as private medical facilities that provide similar services, the New York Times reports.

Since 2008, there is a new effort to remodel the former hospitals in Trenton, Hammonton, Paterson and Jersey City and turn them into "medical malls," which offer varied services like doctors' offices, dialysis centers and urgent care centers.

The buildings are ideally suited for repurposing, the article states. For example, developers convert former operating rooms to outpatient surgical centers and emergency departments into urgent care centers. Furthermore, the Times reports that "the new use is certainly preferable to a deteriorating structure that contributes to urban decay," as most of the hospital buildings are in impoverished, underserved areas.

For example, Barnert Medical Arts Complex in Paterson, the site of a municipal hospital in 2008, now features an urgent care center, a Planned Parenthood facility, three surgical centers and a drug rehabilitation facility. Before it opened, "this was a facility that essentially was empty--the community suffered," State Sen. Bob Gordon (D), who reintroduced a bill to give developers a tax credit for repurposing shuttered hospitals for medical uses, told the Times. The buyers, he said, were "able to transform this facility into one that better matched the needs of the community."

However, critics of the malls say that, unlike hospitals, private medical complexes don't have to provide care to patients who are unable to pay, and worry that they may draw patients away from actual hospitals, according to the article. And unlike a hospital, the mall's primary purpose is to house paying tenants and primary care doctors aren't as lucrative as specialists. Barnert, for example, has an oncologist and a psychiatrist on its roster but no pediatricians, according to the Times.

"The mix of services is radically different," Alan P. Sager, a professor of health policy and management at Boston University School of Public Health, told the Times. "The services added might be more profitable, and if they're not profitable, they are probably going to close."

Hospital closures pose a serious threat in underserved areas, particularly rural communities, and often create "medical deserts," FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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