Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey receives $2M grant from Merck Foundation to advance equitable cancer care

RWJBarnabas Health, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, has been awarded a $2 million grant over five years through the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care, an initiative funded by the Merck Foundation.

Merck launched the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care this past week. In total, the $20 million, five-year initiative will help make cancer care more equitable in the U.S. by assisting patients living in underserved communities receive timely access to high-quality, culturally responsive care.

“As the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, together with RWJBarnabas Health, is committed to providing outstanding cancer care to our diverse communities across the state. With the aid of this grant, we will be able to further our work in New Jersey’s underserved and vulnerable populations, providing integrated multidisciplinary high-quality cancer care through evidence-based interventions,” Dr. Steven Libutti, director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and senior vice president of oncology services, RWJBarnabas Health, stated. “Our program will improve cancer health equity by addressing underlying social determinants of health, reduce barriers to care, lessen disparities and ensure access to the most comprehensive treatments close to home.”

It is estimated that nearly 40% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups, those living in rural areas, low-income individuals and the uninsured are disproportionately affected by cancer, yet often have limited access to cancer screenings, care and treatment. In New Jersey, unequal health outcomes are often linked to race, ethnicity, geography, social and economic status, and other factors. While a cancer diagnosis alone can be overwhelming for individuals in vulnerable communities, when paired with SDOH challenges such as not having housing, transportation, access to medication, a healthy environment and/or healthy food, a positive outcome becomes less likely.

Through the alliance, RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey will streamline cancer care coordination by integrating with primary care and other subspecialty care; improve patient-centered communication and engagement of care; and improve assessments, including those addressing SDOH, and hasten referrals to supportive services.

Patients will see an improvement in the timeliness of care; better coordination between providers; ongoing support; increased use of telehealth for convenience; and more visibility for care in their communities via community advisory board engagement and increased community outreach and education.

In addition to RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, alliance program grantees include Boston Medical Center; Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University; Conquer Cancer; the ASCO Foundation; Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; and University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center.

The foundation is also supporting a national program office at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center, in partnership with the VCU Center on Health Disparities, which will assist alliance program grantees in building partnerships with community-based organizations and provide technical assistance to support their programs. Additionally, the national program office will evaluate the effectiveness of alliance programs and identify and promote best practices that can enhance the delivery of cancer care in the U.S.