2015 Yearly Progress Report from Chancellor Strom

Dear Colleagues:

Now that the new calendar year has begun and I have completed my first full year as your chancellor, I am pleased to provide a progress report on some of the highlights of our work together as we strive to build one of the best academic health centers in the country. The last year and a half, since the integration, has required a lot of work from everyone. We thank you for that. With all your efforts, we have done quite well and we are making great progress.

Leadership Searches

Several leadership positions in key areas have been filled over the course of the past year:

  • Kathleen Bramwell, MBA, was appointed as RBHS senior vice chancellor and chief financial and administrative officer.
  • Jeffrey Carson, MD, and Robert Wieder, MD, PhD, were appointed as provost for RBHS—New Brunswick and provost for RBHS—Newark, respectively.
  • Susan Dolbert, PhD, joined the Rutgers University Foundation as vice president for development, RBHS.
  • Gary Aston-Jones, PhD, was appointed as the inaugural director of the Brain Health Institute, a joint initiative of RBHS and Rutgers—New Brunswick.
  • Jasjit Ahluwalia, MD, MPH, MS, has been selected as dean, Rutgers School of Public Health.
  • Searches are far along for deans of the School of Health Related Professions and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) and director of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research.
  • Searches for directors for the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute and the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine will begin later this year.

Chancellor Scholars

We have created a new Chancellor Scholars Fund to attract to our faculty new outstanding scientists, including clinician-scientists. Our goal is to recruit as chancellor scholars the highest quality faculty for interdisciplinary positions focused on research. We currently have strong teaching and clinical care; this mechanism will enable us to strengthen and build our research mission. Recruits so far include:

  • Manuel Jimenez, MD, MSHP, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Family Medicine and Community Health, RWJMS.
  • Mark Siracusa, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, New Jersey Medical School (NJMS).
  • Two senior faculty recently accepted chancellor scholarships and will begin soon as: Senior Associate Dean for Translational Research and Professor of Pediatrics, RWJMS; and Chair, Department of Medicine, RWJMS. Details will be announced shortly.

Strategic Planning

The RBHS strategic plan was presented to and endorsed by the Rutgers Board of Governors in October. It was developed with input from more than 5,000 faculty, staff, and students who responded to surveys; more than 500 faculty who served as members of working groups; Camden, New Brunswick, and Newark community focus groups, which included 40 community representatives; and the RBHS leadership, including myself and school deans and unit directors. The process was overseen by the 24 members of the RBHS Strategic Planning Steering Committee, representing all RBHS constituencies, other Rutgers faculty, and the New Brunswick and Newark communities.

Our plan focuses on the development of signature programs, complementary programs, educational initiatives, and clinical initiatives; plans to integrate among schools and across Rutgers; infrastructure needed to support these programs and initiatives; and financial and development strategies (see http://rbhs-stratplan.rutgers.edu/plan/key-strategic-plan-initiatives). Leaders for the signature and complementary programs have been named:

  • Robert DiPaola, MD (cancer signature program)
  • Kenneth Reuhl, PhD (environmental and occupational health signature program)
  • William Gause, PhD (infection and inflammation signature program)
  • Gary-Aston Jones, PhD (neuroscience signature program)
  • Joel Cantor, ScD, and Shawna Hudson, PhD (community health and health systems emerging signature program)
  • Jeffrey Carson, MD (clinical research complementary program)
  • David Kimball, PhD (drug discovery and development complementary program)
  • David Foran, PhD (informatics complementary program)
  • Jasjit Ahluwalia, MD, MPH, MS (public health, including global health, complementary program)

Denise Rodgers, MD, will lead two educational initiatives: novel approaches to teaching and interprofessional education. Individuals have been identified to lead other initiatives as well; implementation of all components of the strategic plan is underway.

The complete strategic plan is now available in electronic format on our revised strategic plan website (http://rbhs-stratplan.rutgers.edu/) and in print. Copies of printed versions are available in each dean’s and director’s office. Copies also may be requested by writing to strategicplan@ca.rutgers.edu.

To support our strategic planning priorities, the New Jersey Health Foundation (NJHF) agreed to fund pilot research projects that fall within the scope of one or more of the plan’s signature programs. Three multi-investigator teams of researchers, representing multiple RBHS schools, have received $100K grants to support pilot projects, with two additional teams receiving $50K grants. The aim for each project is to produce data that will enable investigators to seek larger, externally-funded, multi-investigator awards. Awards were granted to:

  • Raymond Birge, PhD (cancer: “Development of Ayl tyrosine kinase inhibitors for drug-resistant cancers”)
  • William Gause, PhD (infection and inflammation: “Arming pulmonary macrophages for pathogen defense”)
  • Robert Laumbach, MD, MPH (environmental and occupational health: “Rutgers commuter and community cohort (RC3) study”)
  • Teresa Wood, PhD (neuroscience: “Identifying pathways that promote remyelination from endogenous progenitors”)
  • Nancy Woychik, PhD (infection and inflammation: “Growth-regulating toxins, their tRNA targets, and tuberculosis”)

Plans for additional signature program activities are being developed by program leaders.

Progress has been made as well on some of our strategic planning clinical initiatives. The affiliation between RWJMS and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH), RWJMS’ principal teaching hospital, is being redefined and we have a new relationship that will benefit both partners. A contract has been signed to support the recruitment of a new chair of medicine and a master affiliation agreement between RWJMS and RWJUH is well underway. Further, to improve patient access and faculty practice efficiency, a consulting firm was retained to assess the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Group and recommend changes in its practice plan. In response, the patient call center is now located within University Behavioral Health Care; early results show a dramatic improvement.

Also, in consultation with University Communications and Marketing, a consultant has been hired to assess RBHS-wide health care marketing, communication, and branding. We have nearly completed plans to implement a consistent overarching brand to be associated with our delivery of clinical services.

Furthering the Integration

Our integration plans also are moving forward. The College of Nursing and the School of Nursing merged on July 1, 2014 to form the Rutgers School of Nursing. A Biostatistics and Epidemiology Consulting and Service Center is being created, linking resources in the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Public Health, and NJMS, to support biomedically-oriented research programs throughout Rutgers.

Further, as provosts, Jeff Carson and Bob Wieder, working with academic leadership throughout RBHS, have made significant progress on the revision and standardization of the appointment and promotion criteria for faculty across RBHS. The goal is to clarify appointments and promotions criteria and expectations, moving us closer to those utilized by peer and aspirational academic medical centers elsewhere, and ensuring consistency with the longstanding Rutgers University guidelines. Negotiations are underway with the faculty union regarding the negotiable aspects of the appointment and promotions processes and procedures.

Pilot and Bridge Funding for Innovative Research

NJHF agreed to fund a second series of awards; these grants were issued to provide seed or bridge funding for faculty throughout RBHS, regardless of the focus of the project, and advance innovative research in New Jersey. Nearly $790K in total was awarded to 23 faculty members (most grants equaled $35K).

Financial Progress

Finally, I am extremely pleased with the financial progress we have made so far. RBHS closed FY 2014 with a $29M deficit. We projected a $24M deficit in FY 2015 when the year began, but, as of November, the deficit had shifted to a small surplus of $0.4M, which represents a $14.8M positive variance to budget. While some schools/institutes are still in deficit and any deficit is unfavorable and not sustainable, our progress cannot be overstated. I would like to thank the deans, directors, and financial officers for each unit for their commitment and specifically thank Kathleen Bramwell and her team for their tireless efforts in leading us to solvency.

Finally, we have had many negotiation sessions with the faculty union. Our goal is to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion as soon as possible.

The Year Ahead

Let me remind you of some of the challenges we faced just one year ago. Our key issues were : financial performance; a large number of interim leaders; accountability; the existence of silos and a lack of collaborative teams across programs, schools, and campuses; faculty departures; and a lack of strategic investment and a plan to guide it. This is in the context of a sub-par physical and technological infrastructure and, of course, the growing pains of an enormous merger. We’ve made strides in addressing these issues through increased fiscal discipline, key leadership searches, and the development, completion, and dissemination of our five-year strategic plan, which will guide our investment plans over the next five years and is now beginning to be implemented. We are addressing these challenges while continuing to attract high caliber students and achieve excellence in our educational mission. The enormous faculty commitment in working together to make all this happen has been wonderful to see.

With your help, we have achieved much over the past year, and I thank you all most sincerely for your hard work and support. Many challenges remain, but I am confident that together we can achieve our goals.

I hope that you and your family had a happy and safe holiday season and are looking forward to an enjoyable new year.

Brian L. Strom, MD, MPH
Chancellor, Rutgers Biomedical & Health Sciences