On January 25, 2012, after nearly a decade of deliberations and strategic planning, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Advisory Committee issued its Final Report pursuant to a directive from Governor Chris Christie. The Report calls for and explains a proposed reorganization and “complete overhaul” of the University of Medicine and Dentistry, which will most likely be known as the New Jersey Health Sciences University once the Committee’s recommended changes commence. The implementation of these changes are said to be of a high priority for the Christie administration. UMDNJ is one of the largest public entities in the state, operating at an annual budget of $1.7 billion.
The Committee made the following recommendations, which have been endorsed by Governor Christie:
- A revamped and recast health sciences university based in Newark, which they suggest be named the New Jersey Health Sciences University (NJHSU). This powerful academic institution, with significantly increased autonomy for three units — University Behavioral Health Care, the School of Osteopathic Medicine and the Public Health Research Institute — will establish the foundation for a new era of medical education and patient care in our State.
- An affirmative and strong endorsement of support for the critical mission and role of University Hospital for the Newark community and for the State. The Committee recognized the hospital’s vital role while also noting that its precarious fiscal position must be addressed. To that end they are recommending a public/private partnership that would provide for the improved operations and long-term sustainability of University Hospital.
- A broader, expanded research university in southern New Jersey comprised of the assets of Rowan University and Rutgers University in Camden and encompassing, as well, the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.
- Reaffirms Committee’s interim recommendation for institutional realignment of UMDNJ’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the School of Public Health and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey into Rutgers University.
The Report stresses the urgency of the action proposed, emphasizing, “The time is now.”
Medical education and health care delivery are– particularly as they relate to UMDNJ– enormously complicated, but not so complicated that decisive action on behalf of the State and for the State’s benefit should be put off any longer.
Pointedly, as U.S. attorney, Chris Christie “led a two-year federal takeover of the institution in 2005, after Medicaid fraud was discovered.” Governor Christie is reported as saying that mismanagement and the magnitude of UMDNJ problems that have accumulated over the years have led him to believe that the structure and scope of UMDNJ, as is, can no longer be managed effectively. As such, under the proposed plan the university will be broken down into component parts. Thinking that time is of the essence, Governor Christie has announced that the reorganization will take place this year.
Governor Christie has said that he recognizes that the University Hospital is indispensable to the well being of the people within the region. The Report proposes to place the management of the hospital under a long-term public-private partnership, with the hope that this will “[enable] continued high quality medical programs, increase efficiency in operations and investment in capital improvements in the future.”
Some Newark residents, however, are said to oppose the plan, citing fears that privatization and the splitting off of UMDNJ units will take away jobs and resources. In contrast, Governor Christie is said to believe that the initiatives will aid the state’s efforts to attract health care and biomedical companies, and avail the University of more funding opportunities. Further rationales for the Commission’s recommendations include the ability to quickly implement the institution’s research at the medical school to benefit patients and that the changes will add substantially to the infrastructure for pharmaceutical and biomedical research.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is still reviewing the reorganization report, stated that he “welcome[s] sensible reform but I would stand shoulder to shoulder with other leaders to ensure our residents don’t suffer a decline in the quality and scope of available healthcare and that we maintain abundant medical education opportunities in North Jersey.”