Source: NJ Spotlight.com
New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, who picked Dr. Shereef Elnahal to head up the New Jersey Department of Health soon after taking office in January 2018, is now conducting a wide, possibly national, search to find another health commissioner. The board of directors of University Hospital in Newark voted to hire Elnahal as the new president and CEO.
The commissioner will replace acting CEO Judy Persichilli, who served as a state-appointed monitor before she was chosen to lead in December, following the departure of the embattled former president John Kastanis.
University Hospital, a training ground for Rutgers University students in multiple healthcare fields, has 500 beds, but less than 300 are filled most days, according to state reports. It also treats close to 400,000 patients a year through the emergency room or other outpatient programs, serves as the region’s only Level 1 Trauma Center — one of three statewide — and is one of two Garden State hospitals to perform liver transplants.
University sought to cut costs early last year by reducing the number of pediatric emergency beds, a move that triggered concern among healthcare unions and community members. The hospital’s actions, along with its financial troubles and low marks from national quality monitors prompted Murphy’s call in August for outside oversight, a move that resulted in Persichilli’s hiring.
The hospital has an annual budget of $670 million and employs 3,300 workers, most of whom are funded through state programs. It also has a significant pension liability and a poor credit rating, Persichilli found. Another concern is that University Hospital’s patient base is largely made up of the poorest residents of Newark, many of whom have significant healthcare needs.
And according to said state senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), “We’re in critical need of infrastructure improvements, especially to the emergency room,” “Certainly we don’t want to see the physical construction of the emergency room interfere with the ability to access care. It is a state facility and it should be supported properly.”
Elnahal’s appointment drew praise from lawmakers and leaders at Health Professional and Allied Employees, the state’s largest healthcare union, and the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute.
Elnahal has a background in hospital reform, having helped to turn around parts of the federal Veterans Affairs network during his time with the Obama administration. A robust medication-assisted treatment program to better address Newark’s high rate of substance use disorder; additional screenings to help community members treat and manage diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases, and more effective testing and treatment for cancer are among Dr. Elnahal’s goals for University.
“It’s been my greatest honor to serve in the Murphy administration,” Elnahal said, noting their efforts to “advance the Governor’s agenda for social justice in health” through restoring women’s healthcare funding, expanding medical marijuana, as well as addressing the opioid epidemic, concerns at the state’s psychiatric hospitals and racial disparities in maternal and infant health.