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Two Healthcare Centers Join Forces to Expand Cancer Care in Newark

Patients from the city and beyond should benefit from new cutting-edge facilities and treatments

Felicia Macklin, left, and Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver
Breast cancer survivor Felicia Macklin, left, and Asemblywoman Sheila Oliver at the new cancer treatment facility in central Newark

The nationally recognized Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey has joined forces with a major teaching hospital in Newark to expand opportunities for cutting-edge patient care, research, and cancer education in the state’s largest city – which officials said is particularly hard-hit by cancer and could especially benefit from additional treatment options.

While oncology experts with the Cancer Institute, based in New Brunswick, have helped treat patients at Newark’s University Hospital for years, the new partnership between the two entities allows Essex County residents greater access to trials and treatments available only to organizations that are designated by the National Cancer Institute as Comprehensive Cancer Centers, like the Rutgers institute. Established in 1991, the institute was granted NCI-designation in 1997 and again in 2002, and its work has helped reduce the number of cancer cases and related deaths here in the years since, representatives said.

In addition, the partnership has resulted in a brand-new healthcare facility adjacent to University Hospital, in central Newark; it’s a modern concrete and glass structure to house multi-disciplinary teams of experts who will help diagnose and treat cancer and assist patients and their families in navigating the complex decisions involved. A lack of existing resources had made it harder for people in the region to get cutting-edge cancer treatments, organizers said.

Leaders at University Hospital welcomed their colleagues from the Cancer Institute at an event Tuesday that drew Gov. Chris Christie, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) and other dignitaries to a tent in front of the new building, on South Orange Avenue.

“We must take a more progressive and aggressive approach” to combating cancer, especially in underserved communities like Newark,” noted John Kastanis, president and CEO of University Hospital, an independent medical center that hosts students from a variety of Rutgers medical, healthcare, and research colleges. The new partnership will allow for “the best and most advanced care for patients,” he said.

Felicia Macklin, a breast cancer survivor who was born at what is now University Hospital and has lived her whole life in Newark also welcomed the new facility. Diagnosis, surgery, patient support and other services at University Hospital enabled her to celebrate yet another birthday last week, she said.

“I’ve always come here to University Hospital for my health, for my family, we always come here,” she said. The partnership to expand comprehensive care in her hometown is “a great thing,” Macklin said, adding her own public service announcement: “Please get checked; men, women, children, anyone…please get checked today.”

Some 50,000 residents of the Garden State are diagnosed with cancer each year and 16,000 of these individuals die, organizers said. New Jersey is 10th in the nation for cancer incidents, said Dr. Brian Strom, executive vice president for Health Affairs at Rutgers and chancellor at the university’s biomedical school. Nationwide, as of 2012, an average of 454 cancers are diagnosed per 100,000 residents; in New Jersey the rate was 493 per 100,000.

“A lot of this reflects late diagnoses and healthcare disparities,” Strom explained, noting that early screening can impact cancer survival rates by as much as 50 percent.

The officials also agreed that the union between the Cancer Institute and University Hospital is the latest – and perhaps the strongest – example of how the controversial restructuring of the state’s medical education system, launched in 2013, has been a success. Christie praised Oliver, who was Assembly Speaker at the time, and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) for their hard-won fight to build bipartisan support for the reform plan, which dismantled the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and merged most of its schools with Rutgers University. The Cancer Institute was brought under the Rutgers umbrella at the same time.

“Our state has always been at the forefront of medical revolution,” Christie said. Overhauling the medical school “has improved our state’s university. This has improved our state’s healthcare system. This has improved the opportunity for folks to feel as if they have an equal opportunity to receive the type of care and treatment that they need,” he said.

The evolution also expanded Rutgers University’s healthcare goals. The institute’s mission now includes education, research and clinical care, explained Dr. Robert Barchi, the university president. Rutgers now boasts two medical schools, a dental school, pharmacy school, two nursing schools, and a variety of other institutes. In addition to its work with the Cancer Institute, the university has created a network of doctors, nurses, and other that provide direct care through Rutgers Health.

“We’re building a clinical care delivery engine that can help and support all the citizens of the state,” Barchi said. “And it’s going to be available here now, to the citizens of this county, of this city. And that’s going to do one thing: it’s going to save lives.”

The Cancer Institute works through its flagship hospital, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, in New Brunswick; a half-dozen system partner facilities along the Jersey Shore; and affiliates in Elizabeth, Hamilton, and Somerset to improve cancer detection, treatment and care. It partners with community groups to educate residents about the importance of cancer detection, increase access to screenings, connect patients with clinical trials and established treatments, and help individuals and their families deal with the painful decisions and emotional burdens that come with a cancer diagnosis.

The new program with University Hospital “is a natural extension of what we do,” explained Susan Goodin, interim director of the Newark facility. Among other things, the site will offer therapies and diagnostic methods not widely available and treatments like precision medicine, in which certain drugs are used to target and block genetic traits of specific cancers, she said.

The South Orange Avenue site will house teams of health experts including cancer surgeons, radiation oncologists, specialized nurses, patient navigators, social workers, dieticians, pharmacists and other support staff, as well as researchers. The bright, airy building is stocked with the latest devices for imaging and radiation therapy and includes private chemotherapy rooms, on-site labs, a nutrition center and patient library, among other resources.

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