N.J. consortium to develop mobile medical units to address health shortages

In response to clinical capacity shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, three New Jersey institutions have partnered to develop mobile medical care facilities to be deployed to areas that are experiencing disease outbreaks and other disasters as well as regions that don’t have a health care infrastructure.

The collaboration is a partnership between New Jersey Institute of Technology, University Hospital in Newark and The Tuchman Foundation.

“This pandemic has challenged emergency health care systems and patient management capacity globally. But, it has also emphasized the critical importance of distributed health care facilities in resource-constrained environments in both urban and rural areas,” Atam Dhawan, senior vice provost for research at NJIT, said. “The mobile medical care units we are designing can be reconfigured and adapted to deliver a variety of medical needs to augment facilities at hospitals and nursing homes. They can also function independently in communities lacking these facilities.”

The modules, which will be constructed by Woodbridge-based Integrated Industries Corp., are 40-foot-long repurposed shipping containers that can be sent to any part of the United States, Canada or Mexico in a few days.

“All of these units are standard and can be moved to a particular area when there is an urgent need. They can be sent to any place in the United States, Canada and Mexico in a matter of days,” Martin Tuchman, CEO of the Tuchman Group and chairman of The Tuchman Foundation, said. “For example, in areas where the hospital system is overwhelmed, rather than shipping patients out of the affected area, we can ship containers into the area to meet the needs of the patient population.”

The modules also can be customized internally and configured for various medical purposes, including clinical point-of-care services and testing and treating diseases as well as staged horizontally to create large clinical field operating sites.

NJIT will contribute to the partnership architectural design, management and technology expertise, with Julio Garcia Figueroa as the principal designer and officials at the Martin Tuchman School of Management will oversee project management. University Hospital is the consortium’s medical partner and will provide feedback and input on the units’ internal configurations, clinical use and regulatory requirements. And Kingston-based Tuchman Foundation will provide initial funding for the project.

“The COVID-19 public health emergency has impacted every facet of our lives. But one of the bright spots has been the innovation it has sparked between the hospital and partners like NJIT,” Shereef Elnahal, CEO and president of University Hospital, said. “The work between University Hospital and NJIT and The Tuchman Foundation exemplifies a new era for the hospital, which now promises to be a bright spot for innovation in New Jersey. Together, we will help everyone be better prepared for whatever challenges come next.”

The group’s Phase 1 prototype unit will focus on simple health care provisioning, including initial COVID-19 exams and testing. Phase 2 calls for the creation of a airborne infection isolation room to treat and manage critical patients.

“If we’re able to scale up our model – that is, quickly transforming the same containers for use from testing centers to mobile field units capable of housing critically ill patients who have contracted infectious diseases – we will need to develop something highly adaptable and flexible. Some areas may lack ICU beds, others testing and triage centers,” Steven Rubin, the project manager and an adviser to The Tuchman Foundation, said.