NJ.com Oped by HPAE President Debbie White
July 18, 2019
Recently, The Sopranos prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” was being filmed in the city that bears its name. The movie takes place around the time of the 1967 Newark Uprising. Following that seminal event, the state and federal governments negotiated a detailed pact with the people — known as the Newark Agreement. Part of the promise was to create a top-flight medical facility with both community involvement and oversight.
To make this dream a reality, some homes were razed so a hospital could be raised. University Hospital was forged with the promise of helping the community and all who live and work in Newark. However, for decades, the hospital, and those who rely on it, haven’t received back the money or attention they need and deserve. Without proper funding, University Hospital will continue falling short in fulfilling its mission.
Each year, University Hospital serves upwards of 16,000 inpatients and 172,000 outpatients. In 2018, the Emergency Room alone served nearly 94,000 patients. and it cares for the most uninsured patients in the state. While University Hospital cares for public health needs, the facility has often failed to receive the care needed to thrive. In fact, you could easily make the case it’s been undermined. Like so much in New Jersey, things at University Hospital were not helped during the eight years Chris Christie was governor.
Christie stacked the hospital’s management with cronies who didn’t come from the community. Gallingly, hospital bigwigs attempted to strip the number of pediatric beds without getting state approval, or even alerting Mayor Ras Baraka. I’m hard-pressed to come up with a worse example of harming the children of the most vulnerable families.
Given that University Hospital is the state’s largest public health provider and only public acute-care hospital, it’s essential to provide the funds to treat the uninsured, under-insured, and impoverished. When Christie split the hospital from its parent organization, rather than making additional investments, the state kept funding flat despite promises, which was akin to making cuts. As a result, patient safety concerns have risen.
As the last standing public hospital in New Jersey, serious steps must be taken to restore University Hospital’s ability to live up to its mission. We’ve already witnessed changes since Gov. Phil Murphy appointed a monitor – Judith Persichilli, who was tapped as New Jersey’s next health commissioner.
Persichilli identified a pressing need to protect public health services and create financial stability. Her report found systemic problems, while making recommendations to restore the ability to provide quality care, cutting edge services and research. Persichilli restored pediatric services and began working with the board of directors to develop a strategic plan to get University Hospital back to its core mission. She provided a vision for the future. We’re optimistic to begin working with incoming University Hospital CEO and President Shereef Elnahal, the state’s former health commissioner.
As New Jersey’s only public hospital, University Hospital should be recognized for its role as a level one trauma center, safety net, premier teaching hospital and leading healthcare institution. We share Elnahal’s goals when he proclaimed he wanted the job because he “believes the community deserves the best hospital in the state, in Newark.” We remain hopeful he’ll continue the work Persichilli started.
We must follow the strategic plan, which lays out a road map to positively move University Hospital forward, without ever producing the need for it to be taken over or bought. Patients in Newark deserve top-notch access to healthcare just as much as those in the suburbs.
As a registered nurse for 27 years and a long-term Med-Surg nurse, I know first-hand what hospital healthcare professionals experience on the front-lines every single day. Nurses need support in order to provide the care patients need and deserve.
Many HPAE members raised serious concerns for patient safety and the facility’s stability under previous University Hospital management. Unionized workers consistently spoke up to safeguard the interests of staff, to protect patients and to serve the community. And we’ll continue to do so.
We stand for safe staffing levels and against attacks on the rights of healthcare workers. And we’ll continue pushing the state to fully invest in University Hospital, so it can honor its charter mission of serving the needs of Newark and the community above all else.