Plan to merge 2 South Jersey hospitals this year could be a ‘game changer,’ mayor says


February 12, 2024 1:09 pm

A proposed alliance of two New Jersey healthcare companies maintains broad support a year after the institutions announced intentions to merge.

Cape Regional Health System formalized its decision in late 2022 with Cooper University Health Care, citing a need to affiliate with a more robust company for financial support to provide better services to the Jersey Cape.

The company operates Cape Regional Medical Center, Cape May County’s lone hospital, which is accessible by either the Garden State Parkway or Route 9.

A public hearing on the unionization was held on Feb. 5 at the Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor. A panel from the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office heard public comments under the Community Healthcare Assets Protection Act, a state law passed in 2000 governing hospital transactions.

Those who spoke at the meeting said their support for the deal remains while it awaits regulatory approvals.

Cooper, a $2 billion not-for-profit enterprise, features a 635-bed hospital, a children’s hospital, the MD Anderson Cancer Center and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.

Chris Leusner, mayor of Middle Township, where the hospital is located in its Cape May Court House section, said the two joining forces gives local patients access to care for which they would have had to otherwise travel long distances.

“Cape Regional is a first-class organization that cares about community, and I get very excited when I think about them merging and partnering with another excellent institution and organization Cooper Health System,” said Leusner, a first-term mayor who previously served as the township’s police chief “The number of specialized physicians and a new cancer center in our community will be a game changer for our residents. I think about my parents who have traveled within the last 12 months for specialized care to Cooper.”

Company officials said in 2022 the approval process could stretch into this year. State officials said they were giving commenters a week to provide their remarks.

Besides its hospital, the company manages a network of three urgent care facilities and employs more than 60 primary care physicians.

Cooper said previously the envisioned healthcare system created by the pair would tally about $2.2 billion in annual revenue while operating two hospitals with more than 900 licensed beds, more than 900 employed physicians in three practicing groups, 130 ambulatory locations in eight counties and six urgent care centers.

Cape Regional Medical Center first opened in 1950 as Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital. It has been known by its current name since 2006.

The deal follows a trend of smaller healthcare companies and independent hospitals merging into larger institutions.

Earlier this month, Saint Peter’s Healthcare System in New Brunswick, operator of one of New Jersey’s last remaining independent hospitals, announced a partnership with Atlantic Health System.

Joanne Carrocino, president of Cape Regional Health System, told the panel her company particularly felt a need to appeal to Cooper because of financial pressures.

“I don’t think anyone would argue that these are extremely challenging times to be in healthcare, especially for an independent community hospital, like Cape Regional,” Carrocino said. “All hospitals throughout the country are facing tremendous pressures, including significant physician and staff shortages, continued expense, inflation and increased competition from both traditional and non-traditional healthcare providers.”