Touro, Hackensack to fill hospital vacuum in Pascack Valley
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Touro, Hackensack to fill hospital vacuum in Pascack Valley

When Pascack Valley Hospital closed last year, area residents were left wondering where to go for emergency health services. Their questions seem to have been answered.

Hackensack University Medical Center and the Touro University announced late last week that they had made the winning bid on the bankrupt hospital’s facility in Westwood and plan to transform it into a new medical school while restoring emergency services.

"Our first order of business is to bring the highest quality health care to the people of the Pascack Valley region," John P. Ferguson, president and CEO of Hackensack University Medical Center, said in a statement. "We intend to focus on restoring emergency medical services on the campus as soon as possible. We will evaluate other clinical programs and services that will best serve the community in that location."

New York-based Touro has ‘3 campuses across the United States and eight other countries. It is named for Judah Touro, a 19th-century entrepreneur and philanthropist who was a major benefactor of Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island. The university, founded in 1970 in New York, bears his name.

Touro had partnered with the medical center last year to create a new medical school in New Jersey. The university had previously bought a building in Hasbrouck Heights but now intends to open the school on the Westwood campus, said Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division, a resident of Englewood, and a member of Touro’s board of directors.

"It’s a better opportunity," Genack said of the former Pascack Valley Hospital. "It’s more suited. It reaffirms and strengthens the relationship with Hackensack Hospital."

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey is the only medical school operating in New Jersey, with campuses across the state. Touro administrators had originally hoped to open the new school, which is in the process of obtaining accreditation, sometime in ‘009. Genack had no comment as to whether the new location would speed up the process since Pascack Valley Hospital would require less internal transformation than the Hasbrouck Heights building, which had not been designed as a hospital.

Administrators were hopeful that — in addition to increasing Touro’s presence in New Jersey and creating the state’s first medical school not affiliated with the University of Medicine and Dentistry — the school would be a boon to the Pascack region.

"We hope that the return of essential health-care services, coupled with the academic environment of a medical school, will help Westwood remain one of the most desirable towns in New Jersey [in which] to live and work," said Paul M. Wallach, vice president and dean of Touro University College of Medicine. "We know the site will serve our students and faculty well and we will be proud to call Westwood home."

In response to the closing of Pascack Valley Hospital and other area medical centers, the Pascack Valley Interfaith Clergy Association is holding a community forum next week at Temple Emanuel in Woodcliff Lake. Emanuel’s Rabbi Ben Shull told The Jewish Standard that the forum will not specifically address the closing of Pascack Valley or the revival of the site by Touro and HUMC but will provide a general overview of the factors that affect hospitals.

"Our concern is with the closing of a number of area hospitals — what prompts that [and] what can we do both as individuals and as citizens to make sure that our hospitals are strong and we don’t see this rash of hospital closings in the future," Shull said.

An administrator from Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, an ambulance corps member, and a medical doctor will be among the forum’s speakers, addressing financial, legal, and other issues that affect the life of a hospital. Every major issue affecting health care will be addressed, except for insurance, Shull said.

Temple Emanuel will host the forum on Wednesday, March 1′. For more information, call (’01) 391-0801.

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