"I feel that Graduate does not realize what they have here. The hospital serves people up and down the river, and the area is growing," Duffy said.
Duffy will get a chance to personally lobby hospital administrators for her position. She, Maute and eight other residents - including Mayor Robert Renshaw and Township Administrator Gary Lavenia - have been appointed to a committee that will discuss with hospital officials what future, if any, is in store for 77-year-old Zurbrugg.
"It's the first time the hospital has made a suggestion to get the community involved, which we were very pleased with," said Renshaw. While the committee will have no formal power, Renshaw said, he hopes Graduate officials would consider its input.
Bernadette Mangan, the hospital's chief executive officer, proposed the committee three weeks ago, when township and hospital officials met to hash out Zurbrugg's financial outlook, Renshaw said. At the meeting, Mangan noted a number of potential roadblocks to maintaining the hospital's level of service, with 110 of its 154 beds devoted to acute care, Renshaw said.
Among the obstacles: a $12 million debt that Zurbrugg and Rancocas Hospital, its sister hospital in Willingboro, may have to shoulder if the state does not reimburse them for gaps between their costs and their income
from state-imposed rates - a gap that has accumulated for four years, said Anthony Cirillo, spokesman for the two hospitals.
Since New Jersey switched to a free-market health-care system this year, the state has said it will no longer pick up the tab for such shortfalls, said Ron Czajkowski, vice president of the New Jersey Hospital Association.
Cirillo said Graduate was considering three options for the hospitals: Maintain them as they are; close both and build a new one, or scrap Zurbrugg's acute-care services.
The residents' committee also includes John Sweeney, Russell Hullings, John Bienkowski, Earl Balderman, Karen Rudolph and Bruce Unley.
The group will to act as a liaison between hospital officials and the public, whose relationship both sides characterize as an "us against them" mentality, Cirillo said.
Residents hope the committee will carry more weight. "Our ultimate goal is to keep it as an acute-care facility," said Renshaw.