Keeping Saint Michael's open as important for medical education as patients of Newark | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
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on July 04, 2015

rime Healthcare, a California-based company, has bid to purchase Saint Michael's Medical Center in Newark.

 

By Edward C. Halperin

The debate over the future of Saint Michael's Medical Center in Newark has, to date, completely ignored the central role this hospital plays in medical education. As citizens, we should all be concerned about making tomorrow's health care better than today and training the health care providers who will take care of our children and grandchildren. Since 1860, New York Medical College has been educating those health care providers. As Newark residents eagerly anticipate state approval for the sale of Saint Michael's Medical Center to Prime Healthcare, I urge state and municipal authorities to remember the central role that Saint Michael's plays in medical education.

Last summer, NYMC forged an academic affiliation with Saint Michael's. We are partners in offering our medical students world-class academic resources and additional medical expertise to support clinical programs and assist in the recruitment of physicians. In addition to teaching medical students, 57 interns, residents and fellows in our Graduate Medical Education Program are scheduled to report for duty at St. Michaels Medical Center on July 1.

Depending upon the outcome of the state's decision—either to close St. Michael's or sell it to Prime Healthcare and allow for necessary improvements to be made—these students and young doctors-in-training may not be able to receive the medical education they are so eagerly looking forward to and an education that will benefit our society.

NYMC chose Saint Michael's as a partner, in large part, because it has been a pillar and beacon of hope in Newark since it opened its doors in 1867. We proudly share the same values. Both institutions have a long-standing commitment to provide medical care to all who come to us and to educate the next generation of health care providers.

NYMC has been a bastion against bigotry in medical education for our entire 155-year history. Women were admitted to our medical school by 1863. The valedictorian of our Class of 1870, for example, was an African-American woman. We are proud that today we have one of the most diverse medical school classes in the region.

St. Michael's and NYMC are both are deeply invested in the Newark community. NYMC has 1,800 alumni living in New Jersey, 120 interns and residents working today in New Jersey hospitals and multiple hospital relationships in New Jersey – and all are active stakeholders that would be directly affected by the state's ruling.

Closing Saint Michael's would violate the Hippocratic aphorism that, in medicine, "first, do no harm." It is important to teach our future doctors to understand how to treat patients who have been historically underserved, and given the latest community health trends, it's clear that the community, too, needs Saint Michael's now more than ever. Newark suffers from alarming health disparities. The percentage of women in Newark receiving no prenatal care is significantly higher than the statewide rate; teen births (15-19) are nearly double the county health ranking benchmark; the rates of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and diabetes among Newark residents is almost twice as high as the rest of Essex County; sexually transmitted disease rates are significantly higher than the state rate; and HIV/AIDS prevalence in Newark is twice the county rate and three times the state rate.

Much of these health disparities stem from social, environmental and economic issues in Newark: nearly 4,000 adults and children are homeless in Essex County, with almost 90 percent of the sheltered and unsheltered homeless staying in Newark; the number of unhealthy air quality days is significantly higher than the county health ranking rate benchmark; and residents within the Newark zip codes have the lowest median household incomes in the state.

Closing Saint Michael's is wrong. On behalf of our students, interns and residents – indeed on behalf of the next generation of citizens who will need medical care – I urge the state to allow Saint Michael's to honor its past and pursue its promising future and approve its sale to Prime Healthcare. The City Council—Newark's legislative body representing over 277,000 city residents—agrees. It's time for the state to follow suit.

Edward C. Halperin is chancellor and chief executive officer of the New York Medical College.

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