Saint Peter’s, RWJBarnabas sign definitive agreement to integrate

Barry Ostrowsky. (File photos)

In a long-anticipated announcement, officials from Saint Peter’s Healthcare System and RWJBarnabas Health said Thursday they have signed a definitive agreement, outlining their intention to integrate the two health care systems.

For New Brunswick-based Saint Peter’s, it was about adding to its ability to serve its patients while maintaining its Catholic mission and identity.

For RWJBarnabas, it was about adding a premier health care system, one that can work in conjunction with the two nearby hospitals as well as the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to create a premier academic medical center.

The announcement comes less than a year after Saint Peter’s and RWJBH signed a letter of intent to explore a strategic partnership, and culminates a three-year discernment process at Saint Peter’s that included a request for proposals in October 2018 seeking a strategic partner best suited to help the organization maintain its rich Catholic mission and identity in an increasingly changing and competitive health care market.

Saint Peter’s flagship hospital, Saint Peter’s University Hospital, is a 478-bed acute care teaching hospital and acute care children’s hospital. Under the terms of the agreement, it would remain as a full-service provider of acute health care services serving New Jersey and the region, and would continue its longstanding mission and identity as a Catholic hospital in adherence with the standards of care articulated in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

RWJBarnabas has committed to making significant strategic capital investments in facilities, technology and innovation to enhance and expand the clinical services provided at Saint Peter’s.

RWJBarnabas Health CEO Barry Ostrowsky said the unique partnership adds value on many levels.

“RWJBH has a rich history of providing high quality care to the residents of New Jersey — with our Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital campuses in New Brunswick and Somerville, as well as our Rutgers partners at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, to name but a few — and the inclusion of Saint Peter’s will allow us to only build upon this legacy of service,” he said. “When finalized, we will have the necessary foundation for the creation of our state’s first and only premier academic medical center.”

Saint Peter’s CEO Les Hirsch said he is eager to get started.

“We are truly excited about the potential of this opportunity to integrate with RWJBarnabas Health to create a premier academic medical center of national distinction in which Saint Peter’s will share responsibility for leadership and governance,” he said.

“We look forward to collaborating with RWJBarnabas Health and immediately undertaking the planning needed to make this vision a reality, while also continuing our ongoing commitment to working collaboratively with community physicians.”

With the signing of the agreement, the proposed partnership will begin a period of review by various state and federal regulatory agencies. Approval by the Catholic Church also will be required.

Most importantly, Saint Peter’s will continue its longstanding mission and heritage as a Catholic hospital with ongoing adherence to the standards of care outlined in the ERDs; church sponsorship and oversight will be provided by the Most Rev. James F. Checchio, bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen.

“Flowing from our Catholic teaching regarding the God-given dignity of each and every human person, and striving to make ever more manifest Christ’s compassionate care for all, especially for those who are most vulnerable, Saint Peter’s Healthcare System has ministered to the sick of the New Brunswick area and beyond for the past 113 years,” he said. “I believe that the Definitive and Catholic Identity Agreements that we enter into with RWJBarnabas Health will give Saint Peter’s renewed strength and broader resources to continue and expand our sacred mission based on the teachings of Christ and His church.

“Catholic health care in central New Jersey is needed in our day. Our connection with the RWJBarnabas Health System is intended to bolster our ability to provide this Christ-inspired, human person-centered health care to the individuals and communities that we are so honored to serve, protecting and promoting the lives of all. We seek to bring all the medical science and the compassionate love that Christ mandated to every woman, man and child entrusted to our care.”

The bishop further acknowledged the efforts of the Saint Peter’s staff and all those who assisted in arriving at these agreements, singling out especially John Haas, president emeritus and senior fellow of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

Haas was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as an Ordinary Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and as a consulter to the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, and made his time and expertise available to ensure that the Catholic Church’s teachings were enshrined in and protected by these agreements.