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RWJBarnabas to Partner Noted Philly Hospital, Looks to Improve NJ Pediatric Care

Two of region’s healthcare powerhouses promise ‘strategic alliance’ will enhance quality of care for thousands of children

RWJ BMS children's hospital
Robert Wood Johnson University – Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital

Two of the region’s most powerful healthcare providers — RWJBarnabas Health and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — have announced plans to build a “unique” partnership designed to improve pediatric care in New Jersey and better connect patients in need of additional treatment with the acclaimed facility across the Delaware River.

In a joint press release, the two organizations announced they signed a letter of intent Thursday that outlined their intention to form a “strategic alliance” and develop “the most comprehensive pediatric health network in the region” for patients and families across central and northern New Jersey.

RWJBarnabas said the agreement will improve the quality of care available at the four children’s hospitals it now operates and for pediatricians now in its network. Both parties agreed it would also impact the education and research missions of both RWJBarnabas and CHOP, as the Philly hospital is known.

The hope is that doctors and children’s hospitals in the Garden State will benefit from the expertise of those at CHOP — considered one of the top children’s hospitals in the country — and that together they will be able to attract and train pediatric specialists that are now in short supply nationwide. Experts said that, while many New Jersey families already take their children to CHOP, the partnership provides the hospital with greater access to a new patient population.

Barry Ostrowsky, president and CEO of RWJBarnabas, stressed that the changes go far beyond any branding or public relations. “This is not simply an affiliation where someone gets to use someone’s name,” he told NJ Spotlight. “There is a serious financial, clinical and reputational investment in this partnership,” Ostrowsky said, with equitable commitments from both sides.

He anticipated the deal, which grew out of a RWJBarnabas strategy to beef up its maternal-child services, would take at least six months to complete since they need to craft a business plan, assign a budget, and authorize a final agreement between the parties. The agreement would be the latest in a growing number of partnerships that cross state lines, something experts have said is on the rise as healthcare networks compete for patients. The practice is increasingly common among specialty facilities, like cancer centers.

“Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and RWJBarnabas Health are two prestigious healthcare providers whose philosophy of care focuses on the delivery of world-class clinical services as close to the patient’s home as possible,” Madeline Bell, president and CEO of CHOP said in the release. “This approach to pediatric care would benefit thousands of families in the area and we are delighted to explore this new alliance.”

RWJBarnabas Health — itself the product of a merger completed in March — is the state’s largest healthcare network with 11 acute-care hospitals, dozens of outpatient sites, and 33,000 employees who treat some 3 million patients annually. This includes the organization’s children’s hospitals: Bristol-Meyers Squibb, in New Brunswick; Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, in Newark; and Unterberg, in Long Branch; plus Children’s Specialized Hospital, in New Brunswick, which provides treatments not available elsewhere.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is the nation’s first pediatric hospital, founded in 1855, and recognized by U.S. World and Report as among the top three in the nation in several respects; it includes a 535-bed center in Philadelphia’s University City and a network of experts at more than 50 sites in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

While CHOP representatives were unable to comment Thursday on how the planned alliance with RWJBarnabas would differ from its other network arrangements, Ostrowsky said the New Jersey network provides opportunities on a scale and in a region that CHOP’s current partners can’t match. “Here they see a far greater benefit to CHOP,” he said, adding, “It’s unique for them. It’s unique for us.”

That said, CHOP also offers something not currently available in New Jersey, Ostrowsky said. The state Department of Health now licenses nine children’s hospitals, including the four run by RWJBarnabas, and experts said that — while they may provide high-quality care — none are equipped to offer the wide range of services and highly technical treatments available at CHOP.

“CHOP is a children’s hospital that goes well beyond the [clinical] capacity of the children’s hospitals in New Jersey,” Ostrowsky said. The alliance will allow RWJBarnabas patients to tap into that expertise, both here and in Philadelphia.

“Being a parent, and a grandparent, I know everyone is sensitive to wanting the best care for their child,” Ostrowsky said. Generally speaking, families with a sick child often start with their pediatrician and may be referred to a regional children’s hospital if needed, he said.

“That care [in New Jersey] could be more effective because of this relationship,” Ostrowsky added. “And if you have to go to the ultimate level of acute care, it’s a seamless way to go down to Philadelphia and get what you need.”

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