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The Boss

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

The six millions is not, however, all net cost to the taxpayers, for some money is collected from patients. The county, according to the budget, hopes to receive for the care of patients $634,000 in 1940, and the city $750,000, a total income of $1,384,000. How much of this, however, represents to the taxpayer just bookkeeping collections? That is, how much of the million and a third is a charge on the city for patients in the Margaret Hague Hospital, how much a charge of the city on the county for patients in the city units? That this kind of juggling goes on was shown as early as 1929 when the Case Committee proved that only $15,000 was actually paid by patients in one year. Perhaps the leopard has changed his spots; if so, the net cost to the taxpayers is at least $3,902,000 for operating expense, plus about $800,000 for interest on the debt, or $4,702,000 altogether.

The cost, therefore, for each of the 2000 beds that the hospital has is $2351 a year, or just a little under twice the costs in the two leading private hospitals in Jersey City, Christ Hospital and St. Francis'. In other words, public medicine as administered by the Hague organization costs approximately twice as much as private medicine in the same town; and if all the costs were opened to public inspection the proportion would very likely be greater.

Some of the reasons for the high cost, such as the extravagant extra services, have already been mentioned. There is every reason to suspect, moreover, that the payroll is padded with superfluous employees whose services are really needed only in their election districts. One doctor, formerly on the staff of the Medical Center, became disgusted with the way it was operated and moved to Brooklyn, where he set up in practice for himself. Some months later he returned to Jersey City for a cocktail party; a member of the staff said to him: `Where have you been lately? I see your salary checks going out, but I never see you around.' There are many items of expense, such as $66,800 for stationery, that seem excessive. The payment, year after year, of a thousand dollars a month to rent radium seems absurd in a hospital system that has five millions a year to spend; why was it not purchased long ago?

Mention of the unromantic matter of the collection of bills raises Mayor Hague's blood pressure to the danger point. He has asserted that not one per cent of those why fail to pay are able to pay and purposely avoid doing so But the Case Committee investigated one hundred and eight cases of patients who had paid nothing, and of these, some had moved away; seven freely admitted that they were ably to pay; thirty-eight lived in circumstances that indicated ability to pay; and only thirty appeared to be bona fide charity cases. (Transcript, pp. 1280-1281.)

Who pays seems to depend not so much upon what the patient's income is as upon who he is. For example, the son of Commissioner Arthur Potterton spent some time in the hospital and paid nothing. The medical director, Doctor George V. O'Hanlon, blandly testified to the Case Committee that there was `no particular reason [why no payment was demanded] except that he was Commissioner Potterton's son.' (Trasnscript, p. 1475.) The commissioner did not even have to request the favor; it was simply `a courtesy' extended to all public officials.


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