University Hospital needs $1 billion overhaul, CEO says
Taken from NJspotlight
By Lilo Stanton
April 19, 2021
The Newark hospital is said to need a slew of modern upgrades, and it’s getting backing from politicians and health care leaders
A new University Hospital in Newark should include modernized operating rooms, a stroke center, additional space for liver transplants, and innovatively designed areas to better support primary care and help address underlying social issues like poverty, housing challenges or poor nutrition.
That is the vision of Dr. Shereef Elnahal, University’s president and CEO, and it comes with a current estimated price tag of $1 billion. The existing 42-year-old facility — twice the age of New Jersey’s other hospitals, on average — suffers from occasional flooding and regular overcrowding in the emergency room, officials note, and is not built for today’s team-based approach to medicine.
As the state’s only true public hospital with a unique mandate to care for Newark residents, a new University Hospital needs to enable “newer, more innovative models to meet not only the clinical needs but also the upstream social needs that patients have that ultimately determine their health outcomes,” said Elnahal, a former state health commissioner.
Elnahal was joined by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and other state and county officials on Wednesday to announce their support for a new facility and the $500,000 that Gov. Phil Murphy included in his state budget proposal to conduct a formal “needs assessment” study, a first step in the process.
The 519-bed hospital is the region’s Level 1 Trauma Center — one of three in the state — and functions as a critical caregiver for a large number of low-income and Black and brown residents, and it was nearly overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases last spring. The region has significant health needs, and Elnahal warns it is also facing a mental health crisis as a result of the pandemic.
A ‘critical role’ in NJ
“As we move forward in our recovery from COVID-19, we cannot lose sight of the critical role that our health care system plays in the state,” said Oliver, a longtime Essex County leader. “This proposed funding for University Hospital, for a study to explore a new plan and design for its physical campus here in Newark, is going to help address the hospital’s needs and allow it to improve the delivery of care that our communities so heavily rely on, especially as we endure this pandemic.”
Last week’s announcement also drew Rutgers University Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Dr. Brian L. Strom, whose department includes the New Jersey Medical School, which shares a Newark campus with University Hospital. The medical school has a responsibility to support public health in Newark, codified in the historic 1968 Newark Accords — a settlement created in the wake of an uprising sparked by community displacement resulting from the school’s construction — and that includes support for University Hospital, according to a recent academic analysis of what the authors call “revolutionary” agreements.
Strom said that given the changes in care and technology, “major new investments” are needed to create a “state-of-the-art health care facility to anchor our academic health center in Newark.” A new facility should prioritize patient comfort and attract new providers and students, he said.
“Our faculty, students, and especially patients, deserve a more modern, aesthetically appealing, and easily accessible facility for practicing, teaching, learning, and most importantly healing,” Strom said. “Now, we can have an opportunity to build a new structure that reflects what an academic health center should look like in the 21st century to best serve its community.”
Elnahal welcomed Strom’s support and said a new University Hospital would help attract academic leaders and medical students, while also better serving the community’s clinical needs. “We’re excited that the chancellor and (Rutgers) university more generally are supportive of this,” he said. The hospital and the medical school currently share “interdependent infrastructure” on campus, Elnahal said, adding that “their support for state bonding on a new building just makes sense for both organizations.”
Strained relations, concern over Rutgers alliance
Relations have at times been strained between the Rutgers biomedical program and University Hospital, along with its Newark supporters, as Rutgers worked to establish an alliance with RWJBarnabas Health, a massive hospital system that operates its own Newark hospital a few miles from University. The arrangement calls for RWJBarnabas to invest up to $1 billion over 20 years to support Rutgers’ efforts to attract top research scholars, retain biomedical graduates and improve medical education; RWJBarnabas will also oversee the clinical work of certain health care providers associated with Rutgers and financially manage these practices.
But this clinical agreement between RWJBarnabas and Rutgers, finalized earlier this year, does not include the Newark practices of professionals associated with New Jersey Medical School, which make up most of the staff at University Hospital. Some elected officials, community members and labor leaders have raised concerns that the Rutgers-RWJBarnabas alliance will drain health care resources from the state’s largest city.