Oliver, Strom, Baraka, DiVincenzo, Newark legislators voice support for new University Hospital

A group of state, local and health care officials got together Wednesday to voice their support for a $500,000 line in the state budget that would be spent studying the need for a new facility for University Hospital in Newark.

But, be certain of this: The group doesn’t just want a study. The event was held to show the support for a new hospital.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a longtime legislator from Essex County, said the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency of getting a new building.

“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,” she said. “That is why Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s budget includes significant quality of life investments to help make New Jersey a healthier place to live for all our residents.

“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.”

Oliver was joined at the announcement by University Hospital CEO Shereef Elnahal, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom; Newark Mayor Ras Baraka; Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr.; and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz and Assemblywomen Eliana Pintor Marin and Shanique Speight (all D-Newark).

Shereef Elnahal speaks at the event. (Twitter)

Elnahal said the current 519-bed University Hospital opened in 1979 and has been relying on its aging infrastructure to meet the growing needs of the community it serves. In 2020, University Hospital handled 83,122 emergency department visitors, 15,572 inpatient admissions and 199,804 outpatient clinic visits.

As it is the Level 1 Trauma Center for northern New Jersey, Elnahal said, the institution and the community also would benefit from new and expanded capacity to deliver comprehensive care for its patients. And, as the principal teaching hospital for all Newark-based medical education, a new University Hospital facility also will serve as a model for the future of academic medicine and public health, providing a premier regional resource for advanced services across many medical specialties, he said.

Strom agreed. He said the study could show what an academic health center should look like in the 21st century and how it can serve Newark and its surrounding communities.

“As we dream about what a new University Hospital could look like, Rutgers will continue our important work with the city of Newark, like partnering with the city on the COVID-19 pandemic response, conducting robust and life-changing research, and delivering quality patient care across a spectrum of specialties within the region,” he said.

In recent years, University Hospital has seen dramatic improvements in the quality of care delivered to patients and the financial performance of the operations. Compared to 2018, University Hospital has achieved significant improvement in its quality measures across an array of common hospital acquired conditions.

Simultaneously, and without compromising care, Elnahal said the hospital’s leadership team has keenly focused on operational efficiency, achieving results that the state’s monitor called for in 2018. Year to date, the hospital has grown its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization to over 6%, a measure frequently cited by rating agencies. Through careful control of expenses and smart capital investments, University Hospital now boasts positive bottom-line results after several years in the negative.

Baraka said an expansion of University Hospital would help improve access to health care and services for our Newark residents, while continuing to build upon the strong commitment to our community.

“I’m thankful for Dr. Elnahal’s vision and for the leadership of Gov. Murphy, our state legislators, county and local partners for believing in the significance of the support this brand-new facility can bring for so many families and further strengthen our entire health and medical community, especially as we emerge from the pandemic.”

DiVencenzo agreed.

“The hospital has been an essential resource promoting the health of our residents and contributing greatly to the economic stability of Newark and Essex County,” he said. “Developing new infrastructure is long overdue and will enable UH to continue to provide quality health, medical and emergency care for future generations.”

Sen. Teresa Ruiz speaks at the event. (Twitter)

Here are statements from the lawmakers:

  • Ruiz: “University Hospital has been and continues to be an anchor institution in the city of Newark and a New Jersey state asset. This tangible first step, assigning funds to explore expanding their facilities, creates a pathway to establishing it as a premiere hospital, which is both critically needed and a long overdue promise to my community. A new facility doesn’t solely open its doors to offering patients a better health care experience, it can create opportunities to expand the footprint of services offered and attract research funding. With the ongoing critical financial support from the state, UH will continue to be a place that offers equity in health care and will become one of the country’s best biomedical campuses.”
  • Pintor Marin: “For over 40 years, the current University Hospital facility has been an integral part of the fabric of Newark and of the state of New Jersey. It has provided care and treatment to hundreds of thousands of people, and served as an invaluable training, education and research source for medical professionals and students from across the country. The positive growth in the surrounding communities, though, means that the facility now struggles to meet the demands upon it. For the good of the community and the state, the time has come to plan for its replacement. A new hospital will allow us to make a better use of space and build with a plan for technology upgrades, for both the present and the future. A fresh facility will also create opportunities to educate more students through the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and further grow our state’s standing as a source of top-notch medical professionals.”
  • Speight: “University Hospital is not only a staple fixture in our community, it’s also a part of our history and the primary source of health care and vital services that residents in the area rely on. Although UH has done an incredible job to meet the growing needs of the community with limited space, it’s imperative that provisions are made to expand its footing and increase its capacity to adequately serve patients.”