Taken from NJ.com
By Spencer Kent
February 9, 2023
The massive overhaul of New Jersey’s sole public hospital could take 10 years and cost $1.8 billion — an expenditure that remains largely unfunded, officials say.
A new conceptual plan was unveiled at a recent University Hospital board of directors meeting. Created by the global architecture firm Gensler, the master plan draft envisions a sprawling campus enclosed by modern glass walls and open spaces filled with trees and gardens.
The current Newark facility has been in disrepair for years. Its buildings have been prone to flooding, and the emergency room is bursting at the seams, receiving more than 90,000 patients a year when it was designed for 60,000.
The redesign falls on Ed Jimenez, the new president and CEO, to shepherd after proposed plans to modernize the campus have languished for years. He described a monumental task ahead in an interview with NJ Advance Media.
He vowed to involve the community, keeping the promise outlined in the “Newark Accords,” the 1968 agreement to deliver high-quality health care, employment and educational opportunities to the people of Newark and include them in key decisions.
“As we think about how we reimagine the next 60 years of this 60-year campus, I think we do need to take that next step that I think the Accords were envisioning, which is … it should serve a purpose for the community in the city,” said Jimenez, a New Jersey native and former University Hospital employee who was tabbed in December.
The project will require a big investment in the 43-year-old facility, he says.
“Now, how do we pay for it?” Jimenez asked. “We’re not sure yet.”
The steep cost rests in the hands of the state government. New Jersey has already promised $200 million for the project.
“Some of it’s going through the Economic Development Authority,” Jimenez said, “and so that’s a wonderful starting point.”
Construction will be difficult, he said, and not only for financial reasons. The long-beleaguered, 519-bed medical safety net in the Central Ward is a cramped space surrounded by existing facilities that cannot be knocked down.
“University Hospital has been in this landlocked space where that’s been hard and complicated, and it’s also complicated given UH’s historical thin financial margins,” Jimenez said. “And so what was a very contemporary building for the ‘70s, we sit here today and (it) is not contemporary.”
A draft of the facility master plan — which has not been finalized, hospital officials say — includes a new surgical platform, a critical care tower with private rooms and a farmers market. Parking would also be updated.
Jimenez is hopeful the antiquated campus will be rebuilt in about a decade, bringing its facilities into the 21st century and ensuring it follows through on its promise to deliver first-rate care to the community’s underserved population.
Some advocates of the plan say the upgrade is long overdue.
“The state has chronically underfunded University Hospital,” said Debbie White, president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees, the state’s largest nurse’s union.
For HPAE, University Hospital — which cares for the largest share of uninsured and underinsured patients in the state — has always been a budget priority, she said.
“We have one public hospital in the entire state of New Jersey, and that’s University Hospital,” White said. “None of our other hospitals are owned by the state. And it is incumbent upon the state to maintain this facility and this structure, which we’ve failed miserably to do over the past many, many years. And thus the state has allowed this facility to fall into an untenable state of disrepair.
“In other words, UH has such a crumbling infrastructure that it necessitates that we build a new campus. We can’t put bandaids on this structure anymore. We can’t fix the entire building. We need a new building. We need a new campus. We need updated equipment. We need updated technology. We need a modern campus.”
Because construction will happen over many years, inflation will be an issue, according to Jimenez, who took over for Dr. Shereef Elnahal, who left last year to become undersecretary for health at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Mary Maples, who served as interim president and CEO.
“There’s a big chunk of this which is connected to those real inflationary prices,” he said.
The exact timeline for the project remains unclear as well.
But the hospital is working to include the community in the plans, according to Jimenez.
“That’ll take some time. That’ll take six, nine months,” he said.