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RWJ Barnabas Health, Rutgers Partner to Improve Clinical Care, Healthcare Ed

Long-term agreement designed to attract new research funding and top medical talent

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New world-class centers of healthcare excellence in New Jersey. A robust system of healthcare education, flush with research grants and top talent. A well-educated workforce for America’s medicine chest and the state’s growing network of clinical care.

Such is the vision outlined by leaders of Rutgers University and RWJ Barnabas Health, the state’s largest provider network, who announced a long-term partnership designed to beef up patient care and medical education in New Jersey. The long-term goals also include improving population health by creating a New Jersey-based model that draws from the best of academic health centers nationwide.

Under the collaboration, announced yesterday, Rutgers Health Group — a faculty practice of some 1,000 diverse providers – will be managed by RWJ Barnabas with input from Rutgers, resulting in a multi-specialty group of more than 2,500 caregivers, one of the largest in the country. The network will be open to any patients; together, it now has a presence in 17 of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Rutgers and RWJ Barnabas will create a joint committee to guide the academic healthcare system, but Rutgers will continue to oversee the academic and research aspect of the partnership. Both entities will remain separate corporations.

Signing ceremony

The parties signed a formal letter of intent during a ceremony at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, in New Brunswick. The agreement formalizes a plan that has been in development for several years and could eventually involve hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding to expand best-practices, invest in new research facilities, and build a talented labor force to serve the Garden State’s pharmaceutical and other biomedical industries.

“Together, we are solidifying our commitment to drive advanced research and invest in the health and wellness of the people in our communities throughout the region for many years to come,” said RWJ Barnabas Health president and CEO Barry Ostrowsky.

In November Rutgers and RWJ Barnabas announced they would work together to develop a top-notch sports medicine program and build an $18 million facility in Piscataway to treat athletes and others on campus; the project is set to be completed in 2019. Earlier this year, the two entities joined forces to recruit a new, nationally acclaimed director for the Cancer Institute, Dr. Steven Libutti. Additional collaborations, and their costs, will be announced as they are rolled out, Ostrowsky said.

“I also think we are building a national destination for healthcare,” Ostrowsky continued, noting that the partnership will allow New Jersey patients to get exceptional care without leaving the state. “We’re building the system that will best flourish in the future,” he said, noting that “a lot of other models were really created in a different era.”

Rutgers University president Robert Barchi said the group has been working toward the partnership for several years and, in that time, had a chance to examine may other academic healthcare systems and gauge their impact on local care. “We’ve seen a lot of things,” he said. “There isn’t anything like this in New Jersey. That goes without saying. And I would speculate there isn’t anything else like this in the nation.”

Evolving healthcare education

Healthcare education has evolved significantly in recent years, after several failed attempts to overhaul the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which was the nation’s largest stand-alone medical school. In 2012, the state approved a reform plan that gave Rutgers control over two former UMDNJ facilities — the New Jersey Medical School in Newark and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick.

Today, these healthcare-related programs are consolidated under Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, which includes eight colleges (including nursing, dentistry, pharmacology, and social work), six specialty-care programs (like the Cancer Institute), and various research and policy programs.

Brian Strom, chancellor of the biomedical and health sciences program, said the partnership with RWJ Barnabas is really a “natural outgrowth” of the merger. “This is really looking forward toward population health and where healthcare is going nationwide,” he said. “Going forward, the sky is the limit.”

Population health has been a focus for RWJ Barnabas, which is itself the product of a recent merger, and now includes 11 acute-care hospitals, three children’s hospitals and a pediatric rehabilitation facility, and providers within reach of 5 million Garden State residents. But Ostrowsky has also previously expressed concern about the level of support for biomedical research here and said working with Rutgers to enhance medical education is part of “upgrading the entire continuum” of healthcare.

“To take some of our success and invest it in a plan that’s been developed with our partners is frankly the kind of investment we like to make,” Ostrowsky said.

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