Unknown to most people, another hospital has been operating in Atlantic City for nearly three years.

One reason for the low profile of Acuity Specialty Hospital of New Jersey is its location — entirely within AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, occupying the fifth floor of its facility at 1925 Pacific Ave.

Another is that Acuity Specialty has just 30 beds, “a tiny hospital,” said Mary Beth Tubbs, chief executive officer.

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“Because we’re nestled within a hospital, getting the word out that we’re here is the biggest challenge,” said Tubbs, 50, of Lumberton in Burlington County.

While regular hospitals provide short-term acute care, Acuity Specialty provides long-term acute care.

“The main thing that separates us from other acute-care hospitals is our length of stay, typically 25 days and longer,” Tubbs said.

Long-term, but still acute — caring for patients with complex wounds, or complex infections, or who need to be weaned from a ventilator, she said.

“Oftentimes people confuse us with long-term care, which is done in a nursing facility. We’re acute care,” she said.

Mark Stepanik, the chief operating officer for the hospital’s parent company, Acuity Healthcare, described the daily care required at its five hospitals as “back-breaking work” for the nursing staff.

“Most patients who come to us are practically dependent on us for everything,” said Stepanik, 57, of West Chester, Pa. “We care for the sickest patients in our community.”

Tubbs said Acuity Specialty Hospital, which rents space from AtlantiCare, has its own separate staff. The vast majority of its 150 attending and consulting physicians are also credentialed at AtlantiCare and other hospitals.

Stepanik said the hospital is the second in New Jersey for the parent company, and one of nine long-term acute-care hospitals in the state. The company’s other, Lourdes Specialty Hospital of Southern New Jersey, opened in 2005 as a 30-bed hospital within Lourdes Medical Center in Willingboro, Burlington County.

Nationwide, he said, more than half of the 400 or so long-term acute-care hospitals are within other hospitals, with the rest freestanding.

He said an obvious advantage of locating within a short-term acute-care facility is access to resources such as imaging equipment and the emergency-care department.

Stepanik said about 40 percent of the patients at Acuity Specialty Hospital of Atlantic City come from AtlantiCare facilities and about 75 percent of patients are treated under the federal Medicare program.

“We’re on a rate of about 300 admissions this year at Acuity Specialty Hospital of Atlantic City,” he said.

Stepanik said the privately held company is profitable, but declined to disclose its revenue.

Annual revenue estimates vary widely for Acuity Healthcare, which is headquartered in Austin, Texas, with its financial operations in Charlotte, N.C. Harte-Hanks Market Intelligence Inc. estimates revenue of $20 million, while Dun & Bradstreet estimates it at $5 million.

Specialty hospitals in New Jersey (not counting psychiatric and substance-abuse facilities) have been growing steadily for a decade, with a slight slowdown as a result of the severe recession.

The number of such hospitals rose from 64 in 2001 to a high of 117 in 2008, before falling back to 91 specialty hospitals last year, federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows.

Staffing suggests the change since the recession is more about consolidation than shrinkage, with total employees at N.J. specialty hospitals rising from 5,318 in 2001 to 6,900 in 2009 — and dropping only to 6,810 last year.

Likewise, total wages at such hospitals jumped from $219 million in 2001 to $380 million in 2010, before a slight drop to $369 million last year.

Stepanik said Acuity Healthcare has just completed expanding Lourdes Specialty Hospital to 69 beds and has created 500 jobs in New Jersey so far.

“We’ll continue our outreach in Atlantic and Cape May counties to make sure we’re meeting the needs of residents there, and continue to grow,” he said.

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