Sure, there was a media release, and Shereef Elnahal will be available for interviews to talk about the vision he has for University Hospital in Newark — a vision that comes complete with a renewed commitment to public health, including a first-of-its-kind Health Village.
Elnahal, however, isn’t concerned with how his future vision will be perceived by the media, elected officials and other health care executives. His goal is to reach the people University Hospital serves.
That’s why the Tuesday morning announcement by University Hospital of its new branding and set of goals — “A Letter to the Newark Community: The Future of University Hospital” — is going into the mailboxes of the Newark community his hospital serves.
“I wanted to prioritize getting it directly to people who we serve first,” he told ROI-NJ.
This letter, Elnahal said, encapsulates University Hospital’s path for the future. It was developed by Elnahal as an outgrowth of the institution’s Strategic Plan, which was developed by the hospital’s board of directors in June 2019.
University Hospital is part of one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers and is the Level 1 Trauma Center for northern New Jersey. Located at University Heights in Newark, University Hospital is a principal teaching hospital of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and a regional resource for advanced services across many medical specialties.
But, like every other health care facility in the state, it has been challenged by the greatest health crisis in a century. And, as the hospital and the city of Newark attempt to rebound and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Elnahal feels the debut of this vision provides a road map that will guide University Hospital through a combination of operational and financial changes, capital investment and deeper community engagement.
“As we emerge from twin crises — one, a global pandemic, and the other, a new reckoning with systemic racism as a public health crisis itself — University Hospital finds itself at an important time in our history,” Elnahal said.
“Our hospital is a frontline institution battling the COVID-19 pandemic. As COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked, we responded to the patient care needs of our community, and University Hospital’s vital role as a public institution shone more brightly than ever. Now, it is time for us to focus even more intensely on recommitting University Hospital to the goals of the Newark Accords, and prioritize the community’s short- and long-term needs above all else.”
“As we emerge from twin crises — one, a global pandemic, and the other, a new reckoning with systemic racism as a public health crisis itself — University Hospital finds itself at an important time in our history.” — Shereef Elnahal
Elnahal also understands such proclamations are nothing new in Newark. The former state health commissioner knows he and the hospital have to prove themselves. He feels the plan does just that — provides a vision for generations to come.
“It’s significant because we’re not only semantically committing to the Newark agreements — as people have done for decades — this is the road map for how to get there,” he said.
The hospital’s road map includes:
- Building a foundation of quality, safety and reliability: The hospital must retain its laser focus on continuous improvement in all aspects of quality and safety. Newark and our surrounding communities simply deserve a hospital that treats its patients with dignity and respect. To that end, University Hospital will utilize more robust reporting, shared governance and quality management at the bedside, while ensuring that the hospital is staffed to meet patient needs while maximizing the efficiency of staff on all shifts.
- Invigorating a financial sustainability strategy: As a public, safety-net hospital, the institution continues to depend on Medicaid, Medicare and charity care reimbursement to fund operations. In order to ensure financial sustainability, the hospital will address its approach to capital funding and allocation, improve its revenue cycle, and continue to monitor and decrease expenses.
- Renewing its commitment to public health: University Hospital, as currently structured, must realign its approach to addressing the unique health care needs of the community, hospital officials said. The health care problems in Newark are compounded by both longstanding and emerging challenges, including behavioral health issues and a level of poverty rooted in years of systemic racism. Facing causes that are rooted in social issues, including trauma and toxic stress, University Hospital must take more ownership in tackling these public health challenges before they lead to emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
- Creating University Hospital’s Health Village: To provide the level of health we seek to achieve for the Newark community, our health care delivery system must evolve and begin to coordinate efforts with government and community partners to solve social, root-cause issues that affect our community’s health. To that end, University Hospital envisions a welcoming, accessible space for patient-centered and efficient care delivery.
Elnahal said he sees a village surrounding the hospital that can provide wrap-around services, supportive housing and programmatic efforts that address clinical needs. There will be skills training for entry-level employment and a physical address from which patients can begin a process of rebuilding and thriving.
A patient “discharged” from University Health Village would walk away with the tools to thrive.
“I think the medical village concept, if executed well, could be a new model for urban safety nets,” he said.
The last goal brings the biggest challenge.
- Leveraging strengths in research, education and innovation: University Hospital must leverage its strength as New Jersey’s most comprehensive academic medical center. It serves as the site of care for some of the world’s expert physician scientists in key specialty areas, and everything from basic science discovery to clinical and translational research occur right on the hospital campus.
History will be the biggest obstacle.
The University Hospital board and its leadership team recognize the painful history of racist medical experimentation on Black Americans. They have pledged that the hospital will work with Rutgers New Jersey Medical School to ensure those mistakes do not repeat themselves, and, rather, that all clinical research must adhere to all modern ethical standards, and be participatory alongside the community.
Hospital officials said that, with those important principles in mind, they can leverage its academic environment to commercialize innovation. Because University Hospital is the clinical site that enables these discoveries, it should maximize opportunities to generate royalties, establish ventures or joint ventures, or own equity in collaborating ventures, and use any and all proceeds to reinvest in the growth of services for our community.
Elnahal and University Hospital say they are committed to change.
Ushering in this period of forward-thinking and change, University Hospital has officially launched a new logo and brand. This new graphical identity is the product of close discussion and consultation with both the University Hospital workforce and members of the community. This logo, which debuts with the hospital’s letter to local residents, will begin to appear throughout the hospital and the community in the coming weeks and months.
“As we begin to embark on a brighter future, our new logo and branding is the initial step in our renaissance and in recognition of our enduring commitment to the people of Newark and the region,” Elnahal said. “We are grateful for the engagement of many members of the community and our workforce in developing the new and modern face of University Hospital. We promise that the new logo and branding are harbingers of great things to come.”
Elnahal, who served as the state’s commissioner of health before coming to the hospital last July, said he is committed to big changes.
“We recognize that these are lofty goals and will require systemic changes to the system of health care in America in order to be fully realized,” he said. “This vision will form the motivation that drives our board and our leadership team. It will take time and incremental successes to realize our vision, but we remain committed to University Hospital, the city of Newark and the people of our community.”