State installs independent monitor at University Hospital

On this — the fifth anniversary of becoming the only state-owned, independent, acute-care medical center — University Hospital in Newark isn’t getting a milestone party. Instead Gov. Phil Murphy is calling in extra enforcement; an independent monitor to right the hospital’s failing financial and safety scores.

Murphy, through an executive order, called for immediate action saying a monitor is needed “… to ensure the facility can continue providing the highest level of care to the community while it gets its fiscal house in order and improves its health care quality …’’

“I believe that University Hospital is absolutely is fixable,” said Shereef Elnahal, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health.

In calling for the probe, the state Health Department cited University Hospital’s four-time credit rating downgrade, its roughly $36 million in debt, an ‘F’ in the latest Leapfrog Safety Score report and an attempt to phaseout pediatric inpatient services without the administration’s approval.

“What agreement comes out of it, whether it’s an agreement with Newark Beth Israel or a different hospital, a partnership, a financial agreement, whatever it might be we’re flexible and open to looking at any solution that might work. The most important thing about that solution, though, is that it maintains services in the city and it remains as a level 1 trauma center,” Elnahal said.

Elnahal is appointing longtime health care executive Judith Persichilli to oversee operations and provide the administration a direct lens for day-to-day decisions.

“That means making sure the right protocols are in place, making sure everyone is equipped with the right staffing and the right checklists to make sure that things aren’t being missed,” said Elnahal.

In a statement, University Hospital President and CEO John Kastanis said in the last several years the facility has taken steps to address financial challenges, making changes to administrative and clinical leadership.

“We recognize there is much work left to be done and look forward to working collaboratively with Ms. Persichilli, as well as our state and local elected officials and regulatory agencies, to accelerate progress at University Hospital,” Kastanis said in a statement.

“We’ve advocated for something like this for a very long time. We worked with community groups and we’ve worked with legislators in Essex County trying to get this in place. And now the governor’s done it and we’re thankful for it. We look forward to moving on,” said Bernie Gerard, vice president of New Jersey Health Professionals and Allied Employees.

The administration expects to see improvements begin in the next few months.