After 130 years of service to the community of Plainfield, New Jersey, Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed in 2008. When the hospital originally opened, the United States Army was battling Indian chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull in far-away Montana. Closer to home, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.
At the time, Muhlenberg was the eighteenth hospital to close in New Jersey since 2000. The hospital’s parent company, Solaris Health System, claimed it could no longer sustain Muhlenberg’s financial losses. Even in the face of strong community opposition, New Jersey’s Department of Health and Senior Services ultimately approved the closing.
Muhlenberg, Plainfield’s biggest employer, was a teaching hospital, equipped with a nursing school and residency programs. When it closed, approximately half of the hospital’s 1,100 employees were laid off. Muhlenberg served fifteen towns in Union, Middlesex, and Somerset counties. The distances from Muhlenberg to the eight other hospitals serving parts of the same area range from five miles to thirteen miles.
One of the hospital’s employees who worked 29 years in laundry and linen services felt the impact of Muhlenberg’s closing first hand when her aunt had a heart attack and it took emergency response services about an hour until they arrived at her home.
In the words of the employee: “After the EMTs finally got my aunt into the ambulance, they had to stop and revive her at Plainfield High School on Park Avenue. They passed Muhlenberg, but it was closed. Then they had to stop in South Plainfield at the A&P to revive her again. She could have died.”
When Muhlenberg closed, community activists, doctors and politicians fought to keep the facility as an acute care hospital. Eighteen months after the hospital closed, the New Jersey Appellate Court rejected an appeal by the city’s leadership to keep the hospital open.
The nearest hospital for the city of 48,000 is in the City of Edison, 18 minutes away.