Dottie Gutenkauf gives comments to Heyer, Gruel & Associates
About 90 residents turned out for the second of three sessions gathering comments on the future of the Muhlenberg site, with the consensus for a medical use and against JFK Health System's proposed 600 apartments.
Many of the speakers were activists who protested the closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in 2008 and continue to challenge any use other than a full-service hospital. Muhlenberg served 100,000 people in Union, Somerset and Middlesex counties, they argue, and other medical facilities are dangerously distant for Plainfield residents in life-threatening circumstances.
Resident Siddeeq El-Amin said the need to transport patients to other locations ties up ambulances for hours.
"Solaris and JFK basic abandoned us medically," he said, referring to parent organizations of the shuttered hospital.
Resident Claire Tucker said she has worked in health care all her life and most recently did volunteer work for Obamacare. She called health care "a moral imperative."
Saying she has witnessed so much violence, including drug overdoses, knifings and shootings, she said, "We need a trauma center - it takes just minutes to lose life."
"This is only a handful of people," she said of Thursday's turnout. "We need to be galvanized."
She urged attendees to knock on doors and get their neighbors out to such meetings.
Her personal reason for wanting a medical facility on the site is that she has a step-son with Down Syndrome who is prone to choking and who needs immediate care when that happens.
"It only takes a minute to die," she said. "We need a hospital, we need a trauma center. No one is going to buy a luxury apartment in Plainfield."
Among other speakers, former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs gave a lengthy account of efforts she said her administration made to secure a buyer who would keep a medical use at the site. She also cited a condo complex above the new senior center where units are not selling.
Assembly Jerry Green spoke "as a citizen" but also delved into politics as resident Robin Bright, one of the most outspoken opponent of apartments at the site, confronted him.
"Read my lips," he said. "No units."
JFK Health Systems pushed last year for the governing body to accept zoning changes and the apartment proposal, and Rev. Gerald Lamont Thomas told the council the plan had widespread community backing. When the council declined to accept the plan, JFK yanked a web site called "Muhlenberg Moving Forward" that promoted the residential project. It did not close the satellite emergency department as Thomas hinted would happen if the plan was rejected, but now Muhlenberg has an application before the Planning Board to move it to the Kenyon Building. The board will continue hearing the application at its meeting 7 p.m. on Thursday (May 1) in City Hall Library.
Heyer, Gruel & Associates were hired last year by the city to perform a planning study on best uses for the site. The comment sessions are part of a process that will culminate in a report to be issued this summer. The last comment session is 7 p.m. Tuesday (April 29) at Emerson School, 305 Emerson Ave.