For New Jersey’s only public hospital to succeed, it needs sufficient funding - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

For New Jersey’s only public hospital to succeed, it needs sufficient funding

Taken from

Debbie White, President, HPAE

May 13, 2021

After years of calling on the state of New Jersey to invest in University Hospital, we applaud the administration for their announcement on April 14, alongside University Hospital CEO Dr. Shereef Elnahal, Essex County and Newark political leaders, to dedicate resources in the state budget to invest in a new building for the state’s only public hospital.

This announcement is one in a series of steps the Murphy administration has taken to undo the harm done by the previous administration, which focused on divestment in our state’s public hospital.

As the largest union representing the nurses and health professionals at the hospital, HPAE commends the Murphy administration and Dr. Elnahal for collaborating to invest in University Hospital and honoring a commitment to the community that University Hospital will be there for the residents of Newark and the greater Essex region.

HPAE is a part of a coalition of unions representing about 3,300 healthcare workers, technical and professional staff and we are keenly aware of the needs of the current UH facility and the need for new development. We wholeheartedly welcome this development and this commitment to UH and we will continue to advocate on behalf of the unionized staff and the community we serve to ensure that the Hospital:

  • remains a level one trauma center and a public hospital, as codified in the Newark Agreements of 1968
  • remain as Newark’s primary teaching hospital for future medical professionals at the New Jersey Medical School
  • continue to recruit and retain public healthcare workers represented by labor unions, and honor their contracts.

University Hospital is a vital institution in our community that must be cherished and protected because it provides critical care for a large number of low-income and Black and brown Newark residents. It was built in 1976 in response to the Newark Agreements and stands as a commitment to the entire community and surrounding area.

Despite years of adversity, the pandemic brought out the best in University Hospital as it played a pivotal role for New Jersey as one of the three regional coordination centers, effectively managing patient flow and PPE distribution during the worst possible moment in the state’s history. In the pandemic’s early terrifying days, University Hospital also helped turn the Meadowlands Exposition Center into a pop-up mobile army surgical hospital, coordinating transfers of COVID-19 patients from around the state.

The performance of University Hospital during this difficult period is an illustration of what we have always known University Hospital could be with the right amount of support. As New Jersey’s only public hospital and a Level 1 Trauma Center, University Hospital can stand as a model for delivering public health for the rest of the country.

Our coalition of unions and community groups has continuously fought to prevent the diversion of critical resources away from University Hospital by both Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, as well as state government, to private corporate health systems. We have advocated on behalf of its continued survival as a vital public health institution. University Hospital infrastructure is not only antiquated — three times the age of surrounding hospital systems — it is crumbling and it lacks critical healthcare services.

We must argue, for instance, that a new University Hospital must incorporate state of the art, comprehensive medical services, including a full-service pediatric unit to serve Newark’s children as well as quality services for the adult population. The new campus building must also continue to be the premier teaching institution for the Rutgers Medical School residents as the Newark Accords envisioned.

Part of the agreement between the state, the city of Newark, and University Hospital — as stated in the Newark Agreements — is to improve the health outcomes of community members. Because the patient population it serves is often in need of healthcare financial assistance, almost 75% of its revenue comes from government funding at reimbursement rates that are lower than private insurance. This undercuts the hospital’s ability to maintain a revenue stream that supports its functions in a competitive market. This ambitious new facility must be an opportunity for the state to dedicate a budget line item for sustaining University Hospital. Without adequate financial support, the hospital will continuously be challenged to meet the health care needs of the community.

To be able to meet the commitments made in the Newark Agreements, the state must maintain a supporting line item allocation to allow for the financial stability of the institution. Investment in a new facility may save the state money in the long run, though, by decreasing the need for constant repairs of an old and crumbling infrastructure.

While what we are saying may appear to be obvious, from a historical perspective, we must make this clear:

University Hospital has a distinct, historic and sacrosanct mission to be New Jersey’s premier teaching public hospital that can recruit and retain talented, dedicated staff while building economic and health equity in Newark.

Debbie White, RN, is president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees, which has 1,500 members in two locals, 5089 and 5094, at University Hospital and a member of the UH United Union Coalition along with Teamsters Local 97; CWA Local 1031, Operations Engineers Local 68, Community of Interns and Residents-SEIU and the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics, Local 100.

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