Chancellor's Spring Update

Dear RBHS Colleagues:

As we approach the midpoint of 2019 and come to the conclusion of our annual convocation and commencement season, I write today to update you on the exciting progress that is being made throughout RBHS.

Last month, we hosted major public events that brought the spotlight on our continuing achievements. We celebrated the redesignation, for five more years, of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute. With this distinction comes $15.1 million from the National Institutes of Health and recognition that Rutgers can provide what no other can in New Jersey: the highest level of scientific excellence in cancer research and care delivery and the ability to translate research discoveries into novel treatments. On the same day, we hosted Governor Phil Murphy to launch publicly the New Jersey Center on Gun Violence Research. The Center, only the second center dedicated to research on gun violence in the nation, focuses the university’s expertise in public health, criminal justice and other fields on a nationwide problem. The Rutgers-led center conducts multidisciplinary research on the causes, consequences and solutions to firearm-related violence, including homicides, assaults, suicides and accidental shootings.

Yet another highly competitive grant was awarded to RBHS in March when the NIH awarded us $29 million for joining the Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program. The award is the first ever in New Jersey and will increase our university’s access to clinical trials, help introduce new therapies, and create opportunities for increased funding.

We have also continued to recruit highly accomplished individuals to contribute to our mission. Martin Blaser, MD joined Rutgers in January as Director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine and as the Henry Rutgers Chair for the Human Microbiome and professor of medicine and microbiology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Dr. Blaser, who previously served as the chair of the Department of Medicine at New York University for more than a decade, is among the world’s leading experts in the human microbiome. In February, we appointed Jennifer Hollingshead as Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications. Ms. Hollingshead is a veteran marketer and communicator who has spent the majority of her 20-year career in higher education and health care, most recently in the private sector. In July, we will welcome Nir Eyal, D. Phil as the inaugural Henry Rutgers Professor of Bioethics at the School of Public Health and the Director of the Center for Population-Level Bioethics. Dr. Eyal, who is joining us from Harvard University, is an expert in global/population level and clinical bioethics with a focus on health inequalities, health promotion, and research ethics. And, as you've recently learned, M. Bishr Omary, MD, PhD has been appointed Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research. He will also be the Henry Rutgers Professor of Biomedical Sciences, Professor of Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and a core member of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine. In this role, Dr. Omary will lead the education, faculty development, and research missions of RBHS serving as chief academic and scientific officer.

Searches continue for vital leadership roles, including the Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion and the Henry Rutgers Chair and Director of the Opioid Addiction Center. I expect to fill those positions by the fall.

As our academic health center evolves, we face the exciting opportunity of imagining how our medical schools, New Jersey Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, can further collaborate to leverage the strengths of each other. To explore this opportunity, I convened a special Committee on the Future of Medical Education at Rutgers. The committee is assessing the pros and cons of a wide range of options for medical education at Rutgers, from maintaining the status quo, to fostering greater strategic collaborations, to a full integration. This committee has met several times in 2019, including holding open town hall meetings. The committee’s co-chairs, Maria Soto-Greene, MD, Executive Vice Dean at NJMS and Thomas Hecker, PhD, Executive Vice Dean at RWJMS, have reported great progress.

Our partnership with RWJBarnabas Health continues to take shape. Since the signing of the Master Affiliation Agreement in July 2018, formalized working structures have been established, widespread input has been obtained as part of many leadership committees, and major leadership appointments have been made. The most recent appointment has been that of Tipton Ford as Chief Operating Officer for the Combined Medical Group. Mr. Ford, who joined us from Penn State Health, will work to blend the existing practices of Rutgers and RWJBarnabas Health with cutting-edge care models that result in superior and consistent health care experiences for patients and at the same time foster a rewarding work environment for physicians and staff across our organization.

Additionally, much has been accomplished as we work to transform Graduate Medical Education (GME) at RBHS, under the leadership of Senior Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Vicente Gracias, MD. Together, RBHS and RWJBH have a large and diverse GME program, but to truly leverage the best of both programs, we must develop highly competitive residency and fellowship programs that attract top students and educators. To achieve this, we have begun transitioning sponsorship for all GME programs, which are currently sponsored by our medical schools and RWJBH teaching hospitals, to RBHS as the sponsoring institution. Multiple specialty-specific workgroups are meeting; the full transition is expected to be a multi-year process.

As we have grown our academic prowess, we have worked hard to ensure that we also improve our physical space. Recently, the School of Dental Medicine unveiled contemporary lab spaces that will encourage further communication among researchers. Also new in Newark is a new location for the School of Public Health, which will spark collaborations with local public health agencies and community groups and spur data collection and research with and for the communities we serve. Plans are being developed for a new CINJ building in New Brunswick and the complete renovation of the Medical Science Building in Newark.

We have continued to keep a clear focus on positively impacting the communities we serve. During the federal government shutdown, Rutgers Health deferred copays, deductibles, and balances due for furloughed federal employees and their dependents to ease the financial burden on families caught in the middle of governmental gridlock. We are proudly on track to meet our commitments to Newark2020, an ambitious initiative launched by the City of Newark that has challenged anchor institutions like RBHS to by connecting 2,020 unemployed residents to jobs by 2020. And thanks to a unique program at UBHC, 30 former prison inmates now work as peer health navigators in the Intensive Recovery Treatment Support (IRTS) program. In their new roles, they help society fight the opioid epidemic, reduce crime and recidivism, and improve public health.

We have accomplished much together in 2019 and I sincerely look forward to continuing our work of building of one of the best academic health centers in the country.

Brian L. Strom, MD, MPH
Chancellor, RBHS
Executive Vice President of Health Affairs, Rutgers University