County exec Joe D.: We need a new University Hospital, and fast | Opinion

Published: Jan. 30, 2022

By Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr.


Essex County Executive Joseph Di Vincenzo, Jr. says he not only believes the state should build a new state-of-the-art hospital and trauma center to replace the aging University Hospital but that the process should be fast-tracked.

When Newark was rebounding from the 1967 riots, the landmark “Newark Agreement” was signed a year later by community leaders and elected officials on the local, state and federal levels. The focal point of the agreement was the creation of a hospital in Newark’s Central Ward that would fulfill the healthcare needs of the community, serve as a catalyst of economic development for the area and create jobs for Newark residents.

Today, University Hospital and its predecessor, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), are statewide assets, providing emergency medical trauma care, education opportunities and research initiatives. In order for University Hospital to continue to be a viable institution, investment to provide the most modern hospital infrastructure is needed.

Driving along Bergen Street in Newark, I get discouraged when I see the complex of “temporary” office structures that litter the University Hospital and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School Campus in Newark. I use the term temporary in quotes because those trailers have been in use for over 30 years but, unfortunately, have become part of the permanent landscape. But I’m excited when I think about the potential that New Jersey’s busiest hospital has and what it can and should become.

Dramatic steps need to be taken to achieve this goal and to demonstrate to the residents of Newark and New Jersey that their needs are not being ignored. I believe building a new state-of-the-art hospital and trauma center to replace the aging University Hospital is needed and the process to build it needs to be fast-tracked.

During the last two years, we have persevered through the worst public health crisis we hopefully will ever experience. If the Coronavirus pandemic has done anything, it has highlighted the healthcare disparities that exist between minority and low-income communities when compared with populations with access to better resources. Addressing the virus also has made it clear that much more has to be done to improve the delivery of healthcare for all people and to help us prepare for future emergencies and public health crises.

An essay published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health outlined that even before the pandemic, Newark residents experienced higher levels of hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and coronary heart disease and had a larger percentage of pregnant mothers giving birth without proper neonatal care than the state average.

Data of reported COVID-related cases and deaths clearly show that communities of color and low incomes are being hit the hardest by the virus. Essex County currently has had the highest number of COVID cases and COVID deaths reported of any county in the state. Approximately 40% of our county’s cases and deaths have been recorded in Newark.

Over half a million people annually receive some level of treatment at University Hospital according to its website. It is no surprise that University Hospital, a state-run institution, also is the largest healthcare provider to uninsured or underinsured patients in New Jersey.

Unfortunately, the aging building can no longer keep up with the demand. The capacities for in-patient admissions and emergency room patients are being exceeded. In addition, emergent maintenance issues in this aging building and outdated facilities have caused certain parts of the building to be closed.

As the Essex county executive, I have overseen numerous construction projects of new courthouse buildings, a psychiatric hospital, schools and parks facilities, to name just a few. I have always found that it is best to strike while the iron is hot. Time and again we have seen the positive impact our capital investments in our parks, public buildings and historic sites have made to revitalize communities, strengthen community pride and spur economic development.

I applaud Gov. Phil Murphy for including $500,000 in last year’s state budget to conduct a needs assessment survey and University Hospital, under the leadership of Dr. Shereef Elnahal, for recently retaining Gensler, an international architectural firm, to draft a master plan for the facility.

We need a new University Hospital. Doctors and nurses should have modern conditions to provide treatment and care. Patients should have inviting accommodations where they can be treated with respect and dignity. Researchers should have cutting-edge laboratories where they can develop new ways to fight disease. The hospital should have flexible space to host clinics, educational programs and community events.

This reality does not exist when your staff works from “temporary” trailers.

Now is the time to start this project. University Hospital has dynamic leadership in Dr. Elnahal and his team, who have brought new life and energy to the hospital and guided it through the pandemic. Moreover, they have already demonstrated their capacity to execute: While there is still more work to be done, University Hospital has made great strides in quality and has gone from red to black in their financials in less than two years.

American Rescue Plan funds from the Federal government awarded to the state could provide the necessary funding for this project without burdening the budget or taxpayers and allow for the project to kick off without delay. These funds came to New Jersey to enhance our response to the pandemic and, in part, to build a public health infrastructure that enhances our preparedness for the future. For Newark, there is no better public health investment than building this new hospital – now.

When I drive along Bergen Street in Newark, I envision a gleaming new hospital complex that can serve our healthcare needs for generations to come.

Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. has been the Essex county executive since 2003.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-01-31 03:04:41 -0800