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New Jersey paper exposes hospital fat cats and gets clawed in return

New Jersey paper exposes hospital fat cats and gets clawed in return

Picture of William Heisel

The Record in Hackensack, New Jersey, awoke to its worst nightmare recently when one of its biggest advertisers pulled all of its ads.

The reason?

The paper and its Web site, www.northjersey.com, ran a stinging investigative piece about Hackensack University Medical Center and the insidious conflicts of interest its top management and its board members have. The story took particular aim at hospital CEO John P. Ferguson and two contractors on the board, Joseph Sanzari and J. Fletcher Creamer Jr.

Here are some of the findings, directly from the story:

Companies owned by Sanzari and Creamer are building a 975-car garage as part of the $135 million cancer center now under construction. Creamer was paid more than $475,000 by the hospital for construction services.

The hospital paid more than $2 million to Progenitor Cell Therapy, a private stem cell research company owned in part by Ferguson; Dr. Andrew Pecora, director of the cancer center; board members Peter C. Gerhard, George T. Croonquist and Samuel Toscano Jr.; and the hospital's chief operating officer, Robert C. Garrett.

The hospital paid $2.5 million to lease space from Sanzari 2001, where board member David Sanzari - Joseph's cousin - is a managing member with an ownership stake. It also spent $68,000 at the Marriott at Glenpointe hotel, which is owned by David Sanzari's family.

The DeCotiis law firm, one of the most influential in the state, made more than $1 million from the hospital. It is representing the hospital in the Coniglio case and guiding its campaign to reopen Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood. During that time, Frank Huttle III, a partner, served on the board. He said Friday that he resigned recently.

Universal Health, which operates a retail pharmacy at the hospital, received $200,000. At the time, Toscano was the company's chief executive officer.

The same week the story ran, the hospital took the unusual step of pulling all of its advertising from The Record, its Web site and other publications owned by the newspaper's corporate owner, North Jersey Media Group. It also banned the newspaper from hospital property.

The hospital spokeswoman should have been paid Julia Roberts wages for this performance. Nancy Radwin said, "We constantly evaluate and change our media plan to be certain we are effectively positioning our message and that it is cost-effective."

This is something that should be written about by every major publication in the area because it is egregious and the type of bullying tactic that one would expect from a strip club that had been exposed as a prostitution ring not a hospital facing justifiable criticism for the financial ties of its board members.

Congratulations to reporter Mary Jo Layton for taking on a tough story and sticking with it. And congratulations to Malcolm A. Borg, chairman of the board of North Jersey Media Group, for standing up for Layton and refusing to back down.

"No one from HUMC has told us that any of our stories have been incorrect," Borg said. "We have been doing our job, fairly and accurately....We will be above the fray; we will continue to follow these stories. And, we will continue to report on all the good that is still being done at the hospital."

That's the kind of corporate ownership newspapers - and hospitals - should be lucky enough to have.

Editor's update: Perhaps recognizing a public relations fiasco in the making, the hospital soon relented and reversed its decisions after news coverage of its advertising pullout and newspaper ban.

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