Published by Susan K. Livio on NJ.com
WEST ORANGE — New Jersey’s largest hospital chain intends to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to help catapult Rutgers University’s medical schools into the “big 10” of research and educational institutions in the nation, NJ Advance Media has learned.
The “unique partnership” between RWJ Barnabas Health, the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the New Jersey Medical School is still in negotiations, said Barry Ostrowsky, the CEO of the $5.4 billion, 11-hospital network. An announcement detailing the arrangement is planned before the end of the year, and a launch by July 1, he said.
But the bottom line is the hospitals and the medical schools intend to use the money to lure high-profile researchers from other institutions and boost the amount of funding the university receives from the National Institutes of Health. They also expect to recruit more medical students to train in these hospitals, and put pioneering research into practice.
“New Jersey desperately needs a greater investment in research, which is almost unaffordable if it is exclusively going to be funded by a university like Rutgers,” Ostrowsky said. “We are agreeing to put up a significant amount of money over years to fund that commitment to research and educational expansion.”
The merger creates a nearly $5 billion hospital and health care system
New Jersey residents will have a lot to like about this partnership, said Brian Strom, chancellor for Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, which includes the two medical schools.
“In addition to bringing to New Jersey a lot more clinical trials, they will get the experimental therapies here,” said Strom, a physician. “It’s good for patients and good for industry.”
New Jersey’s reputation as the nation’s “medicine chest” has diminished in recent years as some pharmaceutical companies have moved or expanded their footprint into other states.
Strom predicted the partnership with build upon New Jersey’s “intellectual environment” and keep companies in the Garden State.
“The potential here is unbelievable,” Strom added.
Since Strom arrived from the University of Pennsylvania three years ago, he said the amount of research funded by the National Institutes of Health has grown rapidly, by 25 percent from the first year to the second year, and eight percent in the first half of this year. Rutgers outpaces all the other universities in the state combined, with $271 million in 2015, he said.
The medical schools, under the auspices of Rutgers since the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey was dissolved in 2013, have succeeded in securing NIH funding in a very competitive environment, Strom said.
The issue is, Strom said, “We don’t have enough investigators” to lead the research.
“We have proven how well we can do, and with more investigators we will do even better,” he said. That means “stealing people from other schools, and that takes money and facilities. Many of the UMDNJ facilities we inherited are in pretty poor shape.”
Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, a consumer research and advocacy organization, said a significant amount of government-funded research comes into the state, but it is “fragmented” — split between various universities, hospitals and private enterprises.
“Think of all the data research jobs. This is an exciting next step in out state’s economy,” she said. “When you see where everybody is going and where the jobs are — in data and health technology — bringing more investments into New Jersey is what we need to do.”
Ostrowsky said he sees Northwestern University as a model for its funding goals.
The Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University has acquired $443 million for medical research, two-thirds of which is from the National Institutes of Health, followed by other federal sources, not-for-profit agencies and the medical industry, according to Rex L. Chisholm, vice dean for Scientific Affairs and Graduate Studies.
“We are told that the Feinberg School has the fastest growing NIH portfolio of any medical school in the past 20 years,” Chisholm wrote in an email. Illinois hospitals contribute money to hire faculty but do not fund research, he added.
Drawing parallels with Rutgers’ entry into the Big 10 sports conference in 2012, Ostrowsky said he wants to boost New Jersey’s standing in medical education and research.
Historically, medical schools simply “affiliate” with teaching hospitals by agreeing to send their students for training, Ostrowsky said. “I’ve always thought that was not intimate enough. I think we should literally be partners — not just on the educational side, but we should be partners on the research side.”
Barnabas and Rutgers began its conversations about a partnership with the West Orange-based hospital system before the state signed off on the merger with Robert Wood Johnson University Health in New Brunswick this year, Ostrowsky said.
The merger “enhances” the pursuit of medical education and research he said. “If Rutgers said no, we would still have had the merger,” he said.
Barnabas Health’s holdings included Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, Community Medical Center in Toms River, Jersey City Medical Center, Monmouth Medical Centers in Long Branch and Toms River, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. Barnabas also has a management agreement with University Hospital in Newark.
Robert Wood Johnson brought to the marriage hospitals in Somerville, Hamilton, Rahway and New Brunswick, and its affiliations with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and The Cancer Institute of New Jersey at Rutgers University.
“We are trying to build a unique partnership between with the biggest delivery system in New Jersey and the owners of the two medical schools, and that announcement I look forward to making,” Ostrowsky said.