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Rutgers hospital holds its annual public meeting

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) held its annual public meeting on Nov. 6, to update on the hospital’s progress, address concerns and discuss community assessments and initiatives.

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) requires all New Jersey hospitals to host public meetings, said Chair of the RWJUH Board of Directors Jack Morris. The effort was started in 2008 and was an important step toward increasing transparency among all New Jersey hospitals.

"We are very fortunate to be an institution and be part of a system with a tremendous social compass," said President and CEO of RWJUH John Gantner. 

As of March 2016, RWJUH and the Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) health system formally merged with the Barnabas Health system, Gantner said. The combined system provides care for 3 million people and has more than 32,000 employees. Other hospitals have signed letters of intent and will likely merge with the system in the coming months. 

This year, the hospital unveiled a new critical care unit and a new cardiovascular intensive care unit. It is finishing a two-year emergency department renovation that will expand the department by 20,000 square feet and improve patient experience and diagnostic capabilities, Gantner said.

"The first thing we had to do was lower the street a foot and a half and the challenges went uphill from there,” Gantner said. “But it's been worth the effort, it's absolutely spectacular and it'll do the community a great service.”

During the question and answer section of the meeting, Charles Kratovil, the editor of the local news outlet New Brunswick Today, raised concerns regarding the proposed RWJ and New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) construction of a cancer institute on the Lincoln Annex School site in New Brunswick.

"My concern is compounded by the joint statement issued on June 3, that says ‘The estimated schedule for the completion of the project spans 48 months. It is anticipated that the site work will begin in the summer of 2020.’ I've never heard of a school getting built in eight months and I'm concerned that if you want to begin site work, the kids won't have a place to go," he said.

Gantner said RWJUH is the flagship hospital for the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ) and the school site is one of many under consideration for the construction of the institute. 

"We will support the site that works well for (CINJ) because the residents of New Jersey need and deserve that,” Gantner said. “If we were to choose that site, there would be arrangements made so that students wouldn't be displaced and there would be a new facility for them that would probably be superior to the facilities that they're in today.”

Approximately 25 years ago, RWJUH donated property for construction of the New Brunswick Health Sciences Technology High School, Gantner said. Supporting community education is important to the hospital, he said.

"To this day, those students in that high school spend a lot of time rotating and clerking and shadowing with leaders in this hospital,” Gantner said. “Part of our mission is academic. We're very committed to it and we demonstrated that (more than) 20 years ago. If that were the site to be chosen, we will once again rise to the occasion and do the right thing.”

Danielle Moore, a New Brunswick resident, said at the meeting that she and other New Brunswick parents would fight for the Lincoln Annex School.

"That's one of the smartest schools in New Brunswick," she said. "Why would you want to disturb our children? Once you move to another location, you have to get adjusted again and that can mess up a child's brain."

The hospital intends on being transparent about the construction plans, Gantner said. RWJUH Board Member and DEVCO President Christopher Paladino notified the school system that the site was under consideration.

RWJUH was out of compliance with the New Brunswick Planning Board's 2004 resolution that required a public walkway between the Child Health Institute of New Jersey (CHINJ) and Children's Specialized Hospital that would connect French and Somerset Street, Kratovil said.

"The French Street corridor is now a vacant space. The walkway isn't open all the time, isn't signed properly and isn't ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act ) compliant,” he said. "I'm skeptical that the community should give up something as important as a school to an entity that can't even be good stewards of the properties that they've taken over in the past.” 

While he would look into the 2004 issue, he took offense at Kratovil's statement, Gantner said.

"We've been a great neighbor to New Brunswick, every day my team saves lives and we do it with passion and we do it very, very well,” he said. "We take great care of our property and great care of our patients."

After the question and answer session, Mariam Merced, director of Community Health Promotions at RWJUH, provided an update on a recent community health needs assessment of Middlesex and Somerset area.

The assessments must be done every three years, Merced said. Findings were based on secondary data, survey results and two focus groups of Middlesex County and Somerset County.

The top barriers to access healthcare were insurance issues, cost and long-wait times, Merced said. The low-income Latinx population also often faced language barriers.

Approaches to these issues, are going to be different for every community.

"What works in New Brunswick is not necessarily going to work in East Brunswick or in Edison," she said.

The report also assessed community well-being. Respondents said their communities offered places to socialize, safe places to walk and were good for raising a family, Merced said. Residents also reported exhibiting positive health behaviors.

"88% said they were in good or excellent health and 81% regularly eat healthy,” she said. “71% report being physically active and 77% report having their annual physical exam.”

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