The beds taken from deLaRosa's room during the summer were among 80 to be removed, leaving 30 acute-care beds in the hospital. The changeover apparently brings to an end nearly two years of wrangling over the future of the 77-year- old hospital on Franklin Street.
To the hospital's owner, Graduate Health System of Philadelphia, the move is a financially necessary measure, one recommended by the state Health Department in a 1992 report that cited the hospital for its low occupancy rate.
But longtime community residents have campaigned to keep the hospital and its old mission intact, and they say they feel betrayed.
"I have nothing against the psychiatric stuff, if they did it as an additional program and kept acute care," said Ruth Duffy, a vocal opponent of Graduate's plans.
"I sort of feel the hospital belongs to the riverfront communities," Duffy said. "The hospital was originally left to this town for the service of the community. The local people supported it."
The hospital, started with money left behind by businessman and philanthropist Theophilus Zurbrugg, long has been depended on by the local community, especially the elderly.
But the state report last year pointed out that the occupancy rate in the hospital's medical-surgical facility was 61 percent, far lower than the state
average of 73.6 percent.
The Health Department urged Zurbrugg to lower costs by transferring many acute-care services to other county hospitals. Similar recommendations were directed to five other hospitals, all in northern New Jersey.
According to Health Department spokeswoman Marilyn Riley, one of the five North Jersey hospitals, Kennedy Memorial in Saddlebrook, decided to close its acute-care business. The other four decided to keep what beds they had.
In making its decision, Graduate considered the low occupancy rate at
Zurbrugg, a recent reduction in Medicare and Medicaid and other insurance- reimbursement dollars, and what is seen as a widespread move toward more outpatient care, said Graduate spokesman Tony Ryzinski.
Zurbrugg's services are being consolidated with its sister facility, Rancocas Hospital in Willingboro. New services, such as the psychiatric program, are filling the space vacated.
Even so, all emergency services have been retained, as have laboratory, radiology, dietary and respiratory services. Surgery services also have been kept, along with some monitoring beds for intensive-care patients.
Even its critics have applauded the hospital's decision to maintain a fully staffed, 24-hour emergency room.
"I don't like (the consolidation)," Bruce L. Unley said, "but if we didn't fight like we did, the hospital might be closed right now."
Riverside Mayor Robert Renshaw, leader of a community task force set up a year ago amid fears that Zurbrugg would close, said, "It isn't a full loaf of bread, but it's better than no loaf at all."
Anthony Cirillo, spokesman for the two hospitals, said that when the acute- care beds at Zurbrugg were filled up, patients from the area would face only a six-mile trip to Rancocas, where there are 250 beds.
"We did not cut any services in this process," Cirillo said. "We just downsized. It was never our intention to close Zurbrugg. And now we are proving that there are good alternatives for Zurbrugg."
But local residents still worry.
"Where it might take only 10 minutes to get to Rancocas, that 10 minutes can literally mean life or death," Russell Hullings said. "I'm just scared to death that the scaling-down process will ultimately lead to the emergency room."
About 60,000 people in the riverfront communities rely on Zurbrugg in ''life or death" situations, Hullings said.
Hospital officials, meanwhile, cite the new psychiatric treatment as the kind of program hospitals will adopt more and more. Insurance companies favor partial hospitalization, because it is cost-effective yet comprehensive, said program supervisor Kathy Waring.
"Once somebody becomes ill, if they are hospitalized, you are talking about big bucks," Waring said. "The idea today is to keep people healthy and out of the hospital. That is what we are trying to do."
A social worker within the psychiatric program links patients with a host of community-assistance services when they are ready to move on.
"They (residents) know that for this hospital to survive, it needs viable units like this," Waring said.