Acenda awarded $1M grant by RWJ Foundation to launch N.J.’s first public health institute

Institute will be first nationwide with advancing health equity as founding priority

Through a a two-year, $1 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Acenda Integrated Health, based in Glassboro, will be an “incubator” organization to launch the state’s first public health institute, according to a Tuesday announcement.

Acenda will serve as administrative, operational,and strategic home for the development of New Jersey’s public health institute. Thirty-three states are currently served by a public health institute; New Jersey’s would be the first to have advancing health equity as a founding priority.

Acenda received the RWJF grant after a competitive proposal process. Among the organization’s strengths are its experience with advancing racial equity, focus on racial justice, extensive work with communities of color, and financial capability.

“This is a remarkable development in the effort to establish a public health institute in New Jersey,” Maisha Simmons, RWJF director of New Jersey grantmaking, stated. “A lot of dedicated advocates across the state worked hard for this moment to arrive. RWJF is proud to be a partner in helping all people in our home state live their healthiest life possible.”

The institute will promote collaboration and enhance capacity in New Jersey, where public health infrastructure and systems are strained by a lack of funding and capacity. It will play a key role in a reimagined public health system in the state, as recommended by a report released in March by RWJF, the Nicholson Foundation and the National Network of Public Health Institutes, with the New Jersey Department of Health.

The report capped a 10-month planning process that engaged a wide range of key stakeholders from public health, health care, social services and the faith community. The report found “two striking situations underscore the need for a public health institute in New Jersey: the state’s racial and ethnic inequities in health outcomes and underinvestment in the state’s public health infrastructure.” Both issues were exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and must be addressed in the public health institute’s development, the report stated.

The incubator’s top priorities will include recruiting a diverse, multisector board of trustees to provide strategic guidance and oversight of the institute’s development, including hiring an executive director. The NNPHI will provide mentorship and ongoing guidance on strategic development, building partnerships, governance and other topics, as needed.