EAST ORANGE -- Leaders at East Orange General Hospital say they are in the midst of major renovations that will change the face of the facility. It's been nearly a year since the for-profit Prospect Medical Holdings of Los Angeles took over the once-bankrupt community hospital, with the promise of investing at least $52 million into updating and renovating the deteriorating facility.
"When Prospect Medical Holdings acquired East Orange General Hospital almost one year ago, it was on the verge of financial collapse, the facilities were in disrepair and overall staff morale was extremely low," CEO Otis Story told NJ Advance Media.
"Unfortunately, as the hospital struggled for years to maintain its services under the burden of massive financial debt, the physical structure of the hospital was not consistently upgraded."A photo of the renovated lobby. (Courtesy East Orange General Hospital)
As Story says he is working on the upgrades in a piece-meal fashion, patients being treated at the facility in the meantime describe the conditions at the hospital as "horrific."
"I couldn't believe that I was in a hospital in this country," said Donyale Harris, whose 18-year-old daughter was taken to the hospital's emergency room by ambulance last month after fainting in their city home.
"I just walked around the entire emergency room taking pictures. ... I couldn't believe (the hospital) had deteriorated to this point."
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According to Harris, the hospital's emergency room was littered with dust and dirt. Door frames were rotting, the bathroom sink was stuffed up, and falling down, air vents were caked with grime, and baseboards were rotted, she said.
Though Harris said she did not take issue with the medical care her daughter received from doctors, the two ended up leaving the hospital before the girl was treated, because of the conditions.
"You couldn't even go to the bathroom there," Harris said.A photo of a renovated bathroom in the 2 West Wing of the hospital. The facility's owners say the renovation of the emergency room is set to start next year. (Courtesy East Orange General Hospital)
Story said redoing the emergency room of the 91-year-old facility is part of Prospect's second phase of renovations, set to start early next year. So far, it has invested about $9 million into improving the emergency room's waiting area, a nursing unit, and the hospital's main lobby. The owner also upgraded the cafeteria and established new departments in the hospital - a women's health center and a bariatric surgery center.
Story said addressing the condition of the emergency room, which sees about 3,000 patients a day, is a top priority.
"Most immediately, we have hired additional building services staff to address the basic need for cleanliness," he said.
"Long-term plans include a total renovation of the Emergency Room."
The recent patient complaints are the latest issue the company has had to deal with since taking over the hospital. According to a spokeswoman for the Department of Health, it last inspected the hospital in July 2016 - a visit prompted by another patient complaint.
In the inspection report, the state cited the hospital in connection with several incidents, including one in which family members were not allowed to see a patient who had died, and another in which a patient was transferred to the intensive care unit without a family member being notified.
In response, the hospital submitted corrective action plans to the state, which have been accepted, and implemented several changes and new procedures, Story said.
"We have set high performance standards for our personnel and we are consistently working to improve the overall customer experience. The hospital has implemented two new initiatives - a Concierge Program and daily updates to the loved ones of our intensive care patients - to add that distinctive personal touch that makes patients and families feel safe and secure under our care," he said.
City leaders say they are keeping tabs on the upgrade process. City spokeswoman Connie Jackson touted the changes made so far, noting that before Prospect took over, there was no one assigned to monitor the emergency room or maintain ongoing communications between the visitors and staff. That has changed, she said.
"We are aware of the conditions and we meet regularly with the hospital's new administration to stay updated on their plans to upgrade," Jackson said.
"The progress is amazing."A photo of a renovated patient room in the 2 West Wing of the hospital. The facility's owners say the renovation of the emergency room is set to start next year. (Courtesy East Orange General Hospital)
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