By Deborah Smith-Gregory and Debbie White
University Hospital in Newark is the only state-owned hospital in New Jersey and against all odds, it has grown to become New Jersey’s premier medical teaching and research hospital, flourishing despite chronic lack of support from its owner.
As unbelievable as it sounds, there have been almost no capital investments in this hospital since it was built. Our governor and New Jersey’s legislature must fund the $1.2 billion estimated cost of replacing University Hospital’s 43-year-old crumbling campus.
Last year, the state made a good start by allocating the $500,000 to fund a master plan that is currently being developed. The next step would be to allocate $600 million from the American Rescue Plan funds available to the state as a down payment to reduce the amount of borrowing required to build the new facility.
It’s the right thing to do at the right time. The third critical step would be to explore how the state can assist University Hospital to borrow the remaining required funds. Again, the state owns this hospital and while the state has the available funding, it needs to act.
For a few months now, Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) members, the union’s staff and its officers have been organizing and collaborating with community activists to lobby our legislators to do right by University Hospital and the New Jersey residents the hospital is charged to serve.
Home to the city’s African American population and other people of color, University Hospital has become an important public health institution not just to the state of New Jersey but also regionally in many types of emergent situations, including the COVID-19 crisis. University Hospital was one of the three coordinating Level One trauma centers, during 2020, in the early months of the pandemic.
Prior to COVID-19 becoming the pandemic of nightmares, University Hospital handled other disease outbreaks, including becoming the northern New Jersey’s Ebola evaluation center, servicing the Newark airport in 2014, H1N1 or the swine flu, and MERS, all of which are severe viral respiratory illnesses. University Hospital was designated by the State of New Jersey as the “frontline” for all these outbreaks.
Rutgers has partnered with RWJ Barnabas for numerous services including research when Rutgers first priority to University Hospital as mandated in the 1968 Newark Accords and the 2013 UMDNJ re-organization bill. Despite the neglect and chronic underfunding by state government and Rutgers, University Hospital has made a positive affirmation of its purpose, as reflected in a new mission statement:
“Partnering with our communities, University Hospital improves health for generations to come.”
State support would serve to put University Hospital on a sound financial footing in the future so that many more great things could come from New Jersey’s premier public health institution.
The state cannot afford to squander this opportunity to utilize University Hospital at its full potential for research and innovation. University Hospital deserves a seat at the healthcare innovation table.
As the only public acute-care hospital in New Jersey, and one of three Level One trauma centers in the state, University Hospital has the monumental task of addressing the public health needs of not just the greater Newark community, but all of Northern New Jersey. Often it is the final destination for the most critical of patients.
For decades University Hospital has maintained a reputation as a well-respected, premier teaching hospital with the inclusion of such departments as New Jersey’s first liver transplant center. University Hospital’s Center for Advanced Liver Diseases and Transplantation was recently named as the No. 1 liver transplant center (out of 61 such centers nationally), honored for its 98% survival rate.
As a teaching hospital aligned with the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, University Hospital has leveraged its status as an academic medical center into the research of promising COVID-19 therapies and testing platforms and has served as a pivot point for offering crucial intelligence to the state Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (ROIC), the Department of Health (DOH) and Gov. Phil Murphy’s office.
University Hospital has risen to meet the excessive challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, having over 300 COVID-19 patients housed at the peak of the pandemic with a daily average of more than 200 coronavirus patients.
New Jersey must do better: fund the only hospital the state owns for the citizens that need it and for the dedicated workers who serve those patients. It is unrealistic to expect University Hospital to continue to perform miracles in times of crisis, while not providing the funding necessary to live up to the expectations of the state.
Debbie White, RN, is president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees, New Jersey largest union of health care workers.
Deborah Smith-Gregory is president the Newark Chapter of NAACP.
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