University Hospital seeking $10M from state to overhaul crowded ER

Taken from Politico

By Sam Sutton

February 13, 2019

NEWARK — University Hospital is requesting $10 million in state funds to review and improve an overcrowded emergency room that served approximately 80,000 patients last year, interim President and CEO Judith Persichilli said at a Community Oversight Board meeting on Wednesday.

“We need between $10 million and $30 million to improve our emergency room,” Persichilli said. “I want to be clear, we’re just starting this process. We have a tendency here to get ahead of our skies. It’s a process … We are starting this journey and the first step is making sure we allow that you all to have input into it.”

The meeting marked the first time the oversight board had met since Persichilli took over from former CEO John Kastanis in December. Prior to assuming stewardship of the state’s only public hospital, Persichilli, the former president of CHE Trinity Health, had been appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to conduct a comprehensive review of University Hospital’s operations and finances.

The report, which was submitted to Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal in December, was highly critical of the Newark hospital’s board and Kastanis’ leadership. Chief among its recommendations was the hiring of an outside consultant to assist in improving quality of care in the emergency room.

A small portion of the $10 million will go toward hiring an emergency room consultant who’s familiar with New Jersey regulations, Persichilli told POLITICO after the meeting. The remainder would be spent on incremental improvements to the facility’s infrastructure and services.

One long-term solution floated in Persichilli’s report, which was noted by the Department of Health in a December 2018 press release, included the opening of an urgent care center on-site to alleviate overcrowding and handle some of the primary care and non-emergency services currently being provided through the ER.

“There’s overcrowding. There’s use of the ER for a lot of primary care,” Persichilli said during the meeting. “Our goal is to keep it below 100,000 [in terms of patient volume] to make sure patients are being treated in the most appropriate space, at the most appropriate time, by the most appropriate people.”

University Hospital’s emergency room is responsible for around 80 percent of the hospital’s admissions, Persichilli wrote in her report that was released just days before she was named interim CEO. The report found that the ER struggled with an “overcrowded, stressed environment” and that patient wait times were far over accepted benchmarks.

It’s unclear if University Hospital’s funding request will be included in Murphy’s budget, which is expected to be delivered to the Legislature next month. Persichilli said during Wednesday’s meeting that she planned to meet with the Legislature’s Essex County delegation next week, along with County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, to discuss the request.

In addition to laying out its plans for the emergency room, University Hospital staff also used the meeting to spotlight improvements to its handwashing and infection control measures.

In October, the state Department of Health ordered University Hospital to hire a certified infection control practitioner after a rash of hospital-acquired bacterial infections in the neonatal intensive care unit. A follow-up inspection by the department’s Communicable Disease Service unit found “major” deficiencies related to hand hygiene, cleanliness and personal protective equipment.

Since last summer, University’s handwashing rate stood at around 50 percent, according to Chief Medical Officer Lawrence Ramunno. That’s since improved to 94 percent, or around double the national average, he said.

Furthermore, the hospital’s entire staff received a flu vaccine, Ramunno said, compared to just 60 percent the year before.

“We’re getting somewhere,” Ramunno said. “I’m not a miracle worker.”

View the article on-line here.