By David Madden

SALEM, N.J. (CBS) — Memorial Hospital of Salem County has been in and out of financial trouble for years. But officials suggest the latest problem could put the facility out of business for good.

Fifteen years ago, it was the first hospital in the state to go from non-profit to for-profit when it was sold to Community Health Services. Since then, staffing has been slashed and services trimmed. A recently approved sale fell through.

Now Inspira’s ready to buy the place and put it back in the non-profit world. But $51 million is held up in a charitable foundation that, by law, would go to a non-profit buyer.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney says the Salem Health and Wellness Foundation has shifted the money to North Jersey, and they just want that money returned to South Jersey without a court fight that could delay and, perhaps, scuttle the Inspira deal.

“They were created for the people of Salem County,” Sweeney told KYW Newsradio. “There’s a chance to save this hospital. One last chance.”

sweeney Officials: Last Ditch Effort To Save Salem Hospital Stalled By Fight Over Money

Credit: David Madden

Sweeney adds that a sale to Inspira could be completed before year’s end, if the financial dispute can be settled in short order.

Local officials were joined outside the hospital by a group of health care professionals who spoke of the need for this hospital in an economically depressed city.

“This is a safety net hospital in this area,” said Dr. John Amrien, who’s served as the hospital’s chief of staff on three different occasions by his own count. “If this hospital folds, there’ll be a lot of people left without health care.”

amrien alongside sweeney at podium Officials: Last Ditch Effort To Save Salem Hospital Stalled By Fight Over Money

Credit: David Madden

Nurses at Memorial Hospital voted to join a union seven years ago. They are still working to achieve their first contract.

A statement from Foundation Executive Director Brenda Goins to KYW Newsradio suggests they’re prepared to support the purchase, but “we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure these funds are used to support the most effective health and wellness programs in the county.”