WEST ORANGE, NJ — RWJBarnabas Health, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s leading cancer center and only National Cancer Institute–designated comprehensive cancer center, announced Sept. 9 that it is a grantee supported through the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care, an initiative funded by the Merck Foundation and designed to make cancer care more equitable in the United States by helping patients living in underserved communities receive timely access to high-quality, culturally responsive care. RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey have been awarded a $2 million grant over five years.
“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,” said Dr. Steven Libutti, director of Rutgers Cancer Institute and senior vice president of oncology services at RWJBarnabas Health. “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.”
Nearly 40 percent 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 social determinants of health — challenges such as not having housing, transportation, access to medication, a healthy environment and/or healthy food — a positive outcome becomes less likely.
As a collective, the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care program grantees will work to improve the coordination of patient care from diagnosis through survivorship; strengthen patient engagement in treatment decisions and overall patient-provider communication; build community partnerships that address barriers to care related to social determinants of health; and provide essential psychosocial support services.
Through the alliance, RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute 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 social determinants of health, and hasten referrals to supportive services.
Patients are expected to 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.
“The severity of the need to take action on advancing equity in cancer care cannot be overstated and will not be overlooked,” Merck Foundation CEO Carmen Villar said. “We must move with urgency and work together to provide all people living with cancer access to high-quality care and treatment. The creation of the alliance is an important step toward ensuring social determinants of health no longer factor into an individual’s ability to receive vital health care.”