Where Trailers Stand in Newark, a New University Hospital Could Rise with Gensler’s Help

University Hospital Newark Upgrades
The University Hospital campus was built in 1979. Photo by Darren Tobia.

The second-largest hospital in Newark, Univesity Hospital, has teamed up with architectural firm Gensler to overhaul its campus and possibly build a new facility to relieve overcrowded emergency rooms.

“I feel in my bones this is going to happen,” Mary Maples, interim president and CEO of the University Hospital, told Jersey Digs.

The plan has gotten favorable wind with the public support from County Executive Joe DiVinzenzo, who has issued public pleas to Governor Phil Murphy for a new hospital.

University Hospital Newark Renovations
The hospital teamed up with Gensler to explore ways to upgrade the campus and relieve overcrowding. Photo by Darren Tobia.

“University is the only state-run hospital in New Jersey,” DiVincenzo wrote on Facebook. “A new facility is needed so residents of Newark, Essex, and NJ can continue to receive quality care.”

The last time the university underwent upgrades was in 2015, but that investment was limited to emergent issues and maintenance, not “strategic growth,” Maples said.

The aging of Baby Boomers and the ongoing pandemic has put a major strain on the health care industry. Also, the closing of smaller community hospitals around Newark during the last two decades, like Orange Memorial Hospital and Montclair Community Hospital, has pushed the 341-bed hospital to the limit of its capacity. Emergency departments throughout the state have normalized the practice of treating patients in hallways as they wait for rooms to open up.

“Our emergency department was built for about 50,000 visits per year,” Maples said. “We’re going to get close to 100,000 visits this year.”

By 2030, the hospital could see more than 120,000 patients, according to Gensler.

University Hospital Newark
The trailers that house the hospital’s administrative offices were meant to be temporary. Photo by Darren Tobia.

Emblematic of the hospital’s need for a new facility are the trailers along Bergen Street that house the hospital’s administrative offices. Those structures, originally meant to be temporary while the hospital was undergoing construction, have stood in place ever since. Maples admits the current situation with trailers is a “thorn in the side.”

The hospital was built in 1979 on about 60 acres of land in the central ward that was seized by eminent domain as part of the post-riot Newark Agreement. That history of displacing a neighborhood comprised largely of people of color put the onus on the hospital administration to “keep a promise,” as a beacon of public health, Maples said. That led to their decision to seek out the help of Gensler, now in the second month of a nine-month partnership.

“At the time the hospital was built, it was state of the art,” said Jim Crispino, principal at Gensler. “But technology and procedures have evolved to the point where the building can’t support them to the extent the staff needs them to.”

A new hospital would likely become the new headquarters for the emergency and surgical departments, as well as radiology and ICU beds. The existing hospital would be used for ambulatory care services and low acuity in-patient service, Crispino said.

The hospital administration also discussed with Gensler that any new facility should have a “permeable edge,” Crispino said, meaning the campus must be integrated into the neighborhood, perhaps offering commercial and retail opportunities.

“It’s more than just adding some more beds and expanding the emergency department,” Maples said. “It’s about what is the future of health care, how should we plan for people to get care, and designing an infrastructure around that so that it is long-lasting.”


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