The topping-off ceremony of the Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center on Wednesday afternoon in New Brunswick included speeches from a series of dignitaries, all of whom played an important part in the development of this important building — and all of whom wanted to give credit to someone else.
Some praised local and state officials, including New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill, Middlesex County Commissioner Director Ron Rios and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge).
Others noted the health care officials, including RWJBarnabas Health CEO Barry Ostrowsky, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital CEO Bill Arnold, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Director Steve Libutti.
And, of course, nothing could be done without the expertise and guidance of project director Chris Paladino and New Brunswick Development Corp. as well as Joe Jingoli of Jingoli Construction and the hundreds of members of organized labor on the scene.
The only thing everyone could agree on was this: Without both the financial help and continual push of Jack and Sheryl Morris, the 12-story, 520,000-square-foot transformative center would still be just a dream.
Simply put, Paladino said no one would be there on that day without Morris, who knocked down every roadblock in the path of the project.
“Jack Morris has set a new standard for commitment and leadership,” he said.
Also clear was this: The Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center — which some already are taking to call “The Morris” — will have an incalculable impact on the state.
Strom said the center is a key part of the strategic plan of Rutgers.
“A crucial piece of this initiative is the new Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center, where we will bring innovations in cancer care from bench to bedside, enabling patients to directly benefit from the cutting-edge research conducted by our talented physicians and scientists,” he said.
“We often boast about the innovative research an academic health center like Rutgers provides. More importantly is the hope and confidence (it gives) to patients and families that right here, in their home state, and, in some cases, in their own town, they will be receiving the highest quality care.”
Libutti seconded that emotion.
“As we gather today to raise a ceremonial final beam into place, I’m confident in saying that, when the Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center is completed, we will be ushering in a new era of cancer care and research that will exceed even our greatest expectations,” he said.
The center, expected to open in 2024, will be the first freestanding hospital devoted solely to the care of patients with cancer, Libutti said.
“It will serve as the hub for a specialty oncology care model for our health system, providing the most advanced treatments — many not available anywhere else,” he said. “The Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center is part of an overall major investment of RWJBarnabas Health and the Rutgers Cancer Institute to expand and transform oncology services across the state.”
And within state lines, Libutti said.
“The Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center is a place where our patients in New Jersey and beyond can receive exceptional cancer care close to home,” he said. “The notion of having to travel across bridges or tunnels to get exceptional care ends with the opening of this building.
“The vision and commitment of the Morris family to that goal is without precedent.”
Morris, as humble as they come, deflect the accolades.
“Sheryl and I are so blessed and so thankful to have our name on such a great building that will take care of so many people in (the) great way people deserve to be taken care of,” he said.
Morris credited the men and women who literally are doing the heavy lifting: organized labor.
“it’s not just about building the building — it’s about the people that build that building,” he said, looking at the construction workers on the scene. “I thank each and every one of you for your tireless efforts.”
Morris, who was chair of the RWJBarnabas board when the project started, then gave a special thanks to Ostrowsky for his efforts.
“I just can’t say enough great things about Barry Ostrowsky,” he said. “He convinced me that we can do some really great things — and this is an example of one of the great things that we are able to do.”