The state’s only public hospital has been in service in Newark since it was first built in 1979, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how lagging the facility’s infrastructure is.
Officials at the 519-bed University Hospital in the state’s largest city estimate that in 2020 the hospital handled 83,122 emergency room visits, 15,572 inpatient admissions and 199,804 outpatient visits.
The hospital is one of three Level 1 trauma centers in the state–those which are equipped to handle some of the most serious and critical medical injuries. The others are Cooper University Health Care in Camden and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
University Hospital played a key role in the local area’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, which uses University Hospital as one of its key teaching facilities.
That was especially pertinent for Newark, as it became one of the communities most devastated by the pandemic over the past 13 months.
“With the growing primary care needs of our community, health equity lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, a budding, post-pandemic mental health crisis, and the community’s demand for more comprehensive and specialized care, our current facilities are bursting at the seams,” reads a statement from Shereef Elnahal, the president and chief executive officer for University Hospital.
Elnahal was the state health commissioner before he traded places in 2019 with Judith Persichilli, who was Elnahal’s predecessor at University Hospital. The troubled hospital was the subject of state oversight for years, and Persichilli spent much of her time as the state-appointed monitor for the facilities.
“A new, modern facility will allow us to meet and exceed these needs, in our quest to build a thriving and modern biomedical campus,” the hospital president continued. “We have also proven worthy of these investments – with marked improvements in quality, financial performance, regulatory compliance, and near-universal achievement of all tasks placed upon us in the Governor’s 2018 Monitor’s Report.”
Gov. Phil Murphy’s record-high $44.8 billion spending plan calls for $500,000 toward studying what exactly would constitute these new facilities at University Hospital, as well as the price tag.
The proposal for expanding the hospital has the support of several key budget lawmakers, according to a statement put out by University Hospital.
“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,” reads a statement from Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin, D-29th District. She chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, one of the key controls on the state’s purse strings.d