Thursday, June 11, 2015

In Hackensack, high medical bills, higher property taxes

Drivers in Hackensack on Wednesday morning encountered road work on River Street, above, and Main Street, below, aggravating traffic congestion on our already narrow, antiquated streets.


Doctors and hospitals have blocked "a measure meant to protect patients from surprise medical bills and rein in exorbitant charges to insurance companies," The Record's lead Page 1 story reports today.

Opponents are "motivated by personal and corporate greed" and "consumers were left out of the equation," said the state senator who was the bill's prime sponsor (A-1).

Today's story by Staff Writer Lindy Washburn is the latest in a series she has done on surprise medical bills from out-of-network doctors, but she doesn't state the position of many hospitals, including Hackensack University Medical Center.

Jazz me blues

HUMC fundamentally changed the residential character of its Hackensack neighborhood, including the demolition of the Van Gelder home on Prospect Avenue that served as a premier jazz recording studio for most of the 1950s.

In 1954, jazz pianist Thelonious Monk recorded "Hackensack," an instrumental, in that studio, which later relocated to Englewood Cliffs.

Thanks to HUMC, residents of the city will continue to receive high medical bills and pay even higher property taxes, because the non-profit pays no taxes on more than $130 million in property it owns in Hackensack.

Profits before taxes

The highly profitable HUMC, which continues to affiliate and merge with other hospitals; Bergen County and Fairleigh Dickinson University are the three big Hackensack non-profits responsible for a dramatic shift of the tax burden onto long-suffering residents and businesses.

Now, city officials have announced an agreement to settle the hospital's tax appeals, which, if successful, would have forced the city to repay the hospital $4 million.

Last month, The Record reported HUMC will pay the city $4.5 million to settle the appeals, and to address other issues, including an annual payment for air rights, payment for ambulance services and crossing guards.

But Richard Salkin, the attorney who negotiated the city's 2008 agreement with the hospital, has sued to stop the new deal.

Salkin, now the Board of Education attorney, also has spoken at City Council meetings to defend the old pact.

'08 controversy

But the deal he now defends was highly controversial at the time, and was viewed by many as a giveaway to the hospital.

Although the city received $1 million for air rights, the deal approved by the council in Hackensack -- or "Zisaville," as it was known then -- meant the loss of the Fire Department Ambulance Service.

Under the new agreement, residents will continue to be served by HUMC's ambulances at no cost to them, city officials say.

Governor Christie

Now, most stories in The Record about Governor Christie usually include this phrase in the lead or second paragraph:

"... as he weighs a run for the Republican presidential nomination" (A-3).

But given the shambles the GOP bully has made of governing and the state economy, shouldn't the Woodland Park daily spend all of its time and resources on reporting what is happening in New Jersey or in Christie's case, not happening?

The newspaper has no obligation to report anything more than a few sentences from the out-of-town appearances by Christie, one of the least popular potential candidates.

And maybe it would be a good idea to take away Christie "campaign" stories from three reporters who do a good imitation of being sycophants:

Melissa Hayes, who is assigned to cover Christie; and political Columnists Charles Stile and Herb Jackson.

Bus, truck crashes

The local assignment editors, Deirdre Sykes and Dan Sforza, have elevated coverage of accidents to an art form as they seek to fill the yawning holes in their local-news section.

But they don't employ common sense in the editing of the stories, such as today's L-1 coverage of an NJ Transit bus hitting a charter bus in the Lincoln Tunnel.

If one vehicle hits another from behind, it's likely because the driver who caused the accident was following too closely, but there isn't even a hint that reporters asked the question.

In the story on a fatal truck accident on a Route 287 ramp, the reporter doesn't bother to ask state police if speed or a shifting load or both were factors (L-6).

More road kill

What was the point of Road Warrior John Cichowski's Wednesday column on the Route 17 bottleneck in Maywood, Rochelle Park and Paramus, except to print the names of complaining motorists?

As he finally says on the continuation page, any widening "remains little more than an unfunded pipe dream."

Now, I guess we can expect another column on the Route 4 bottleneck in Teaneck, followed by hand-wringing over the Forest Avenue Route 4 west ramp bottleneck, etc. etc.

Wednesday's Business page (L-7) was true to form, reporting on a conference on the future of malls and once again ignoring struggling downtowns.

Granola lover?

Once readers got over the shock of dessert-obsessed Restaurant Reviewer Elisa Ung praising granola on Wednesday's Better Living front, they were in for a dose of really unhealthy food.

On BL-2, Food Editor Esther Davidowitz celebrated bone marrow, which, she explained, is "97 percent fat."

John Piliouras, the chef who is charging $22 for three bones that probably cost him $2, urges diners at his restaurant to "live on the edge a bit," acknowledgement they're consuming a heart-attack on a plate.

Also on BL-2, clueless Upper Saddle River freelancer Kate Morgan Jackson's recipe for Chicken Noodle Salad contains 6 ounces of linguine and 6 tablespoons of artery clogging butter.

As an antidote, see: 

Marry eggs and pasta in the morning

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