Health care officials don’t always like to talk about numbers and statistics. Figures can take away from the personalized nature of care, where every individual should be viewed as the most important patient.
But, when Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett and St. Joseph’s Health CEO Kevin Slavin got together to talk about their new clinical affiliation, which will bring greatly enhanced cancer care services to those in the city of Paterson and Passaic County, they offered a few numbers that showed why reaching this agreement — even during a pandemic — was so important to both of them.
“Here’s one statistic that I recently heard: Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women,” Garrett said. “That statistic alone really moved me to do something here that can be very unique.
“We want to provide better access to prevention, screening and treatment. The lack of all of the above is why statistics like that and disparities in health care outcomes exist.”
Slavin said the affiliation is a major step forward in creating a comprehensive cancer care program in the area he serves.
The agreement will make an impact in three areas in three locations:
- A new infusion center, opening on the St. Joseph’s Health Wayne Medical Center campus later this month, is among the first steps in the new oncology affiliation;
- The partnership will also extend to the St. Joseph’s University Medical Center campus in Paterson, where there will be a consolidation of services into one comprehensive center;
- And, later this year in Totowa, the systems will open an ambulatory outpatient campus.
More so, the affiliation will bring access to clinical trials — as many as 700 — many of which previously may not have reached the community.
Slavin and St. Joseph’s have made bringing better treatment to underserved communities their top priority. He said the cancer affiliation with HMH will help increase care in an area where personal transportation can be a limiting factor.
He offered a prediction of where this affiliation could go in the next 12-18 months.
“From an oncology perspective, I would say that we see that we will at least double, if not triple the number of people that will be served in these three locations,” he said. “It will enable us to bring care closer to home, so people can get care where they live.”
And it’s not just access to care, it’s access to the highest quality of care.
Garrett noted the affiliation will enable all patients in the St. Joseph’s system to benefit not only from John Theurer Cancer Center at HMH, but from partnerships Hackensack Meridian has with the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering.
Garrett said the affiliation is part of a new world of medicine — inspired, if not required by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t think one health system, or one hospital, can do it all,” he said. “And if they really want to be transformational, I think they need to look at these kinds of partnerships to help achieve their goals and their mission.”
Slavin agrees wholeheartedly. It’s why, he said, the organizations pushed to complete the affiliation even during the pandemic.
“It would have been very easy to push all this off until after the pandemic and say, ‘We’ll get to it then,’” he said. “But people need the care. That was ever more pronounced during the pandemic, particularly with communities of color and underserved communities that got hit hard.”
Dr. Adnan Danish, the chief of radiation oncology at St. Joseph’s Health, is thrilled by the developments.
“When expert teams work together, our patients win,” he said. “The partnership of our two organizations deepens our commitment to the communities we serve.”
Dr. Andre Goy, chairman and executive director of John Theurer Cancer Center, knows the impact the affiliation will bring.
“We are living in a time where cancer care is getting increasingly complex based on many more treatment options available,” he said. “The partnership with John Theurer Cancer Center will bring patients at St. Joseph’s access to subspecialized experts, trials and innovation when needed, in particular through immunotherapy, including cell therapies and Phase I studies.
The new ambulatory center in Totowa that is scheduled to open by the end of year is being built with the pandemic in mind.
“We’ve been able to incorporate all aspects of the pandemic — ventilation, spacing, private rooms — that will make it a state-of-the-art facility like no other when it opens,” St. Joseph’s Health CEO Kevin Slavin said.
St. Joseph’s is building the facility with Hackensack Meridian Health.
“We will work together to provide more refined options, including clinical trials, to patients across the state.”
This work will aim to show cancer isn’t a numbers game. Slavin said individual patients now will be reached earlier, given them a better chance for success.
“We really want to double down on community outreach, prevention screening through this partnership,” he said. “In Paterson and Passaic County, we see far too many patients coming to us for their cancer care in advanced stages of cancer.
“We obviously want to prevent it if we can, but we also want to catch it in those earlier stages so there’s a better treatment outcome.”
That’s the goal, Garrett said.
“I always go back to the mission of Hackensack Meridian, which is to transform health care — and we think we can do that more effectively in northern New Jersey with a partner like St. Joseph’s.”