Freeholders deaf to cries of hospital sale critics

The critics of the recent sale of Burlington County's hospital for the poor say the freeholders were deaf to their cries and cavalier in handling the controversy.  

Four of the five freeholders on the all-Republican board had failed to show up at two public hearings attended by more than 500 people last month.  The crowd had wanted the freeholders to reconsider their plans to unload the 100-year-old Buttonwood Hospital.  

Supporters of Buttonwood Hospital protest at the hearing (Photo by Jan Hefler/Inquirer)

Joe Donnelly, the only freeholder to appear, said the others would review a typed transcript.  

The speakers at the hearing said they were stung by the freeholders' absence.  Isn't it the freeholders' job to listen to the public before making important decisions?  A transcript doesn't capture people's faces or the sadness and anger in their voices. 

None of the 4 no-show freeholders would agree to an interview after the hearings.   

On Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to accept the lone bid for the hospital.  It turned out to be a million less than what a consultant said the freeholders could get.  Now, they  say $15 million is the best they could hope for in the current market. 

The freeholders said their priority is keeping taxes low, not running a hospital that will cost them $4.5 million this year.  They were unmoved by the critics' arguments the hospital is a safety net for vulnerable people and only costs a county household about $24 in taxes a year.  

Then came the final insult, and it led to heckling.  Before the vote, Freeholder Maryann O'Brien said she believes the new owners, a nursing home chain, will be fine because the patients seemed well-cared for when she recently visited one of their other homes.  Many were on Medicaid or Medicare.  Not only that, she said she noticed that the "wallpaper was pretty."