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Setting the foundation for reforming health care

Robert Wood Johnson says N.J. a good test bed for nationwide solutions

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John Lumpkin says the foundation's work affects all businesses. Behind him is a portrait of founder Robert Wood Johnson.
John Lumpkin says the foundation's work affects all businesses. Behind him is a portrait of founder Robert Wood Johnson. - (Aaron Houston)

As questions of how to better deliver health care to the nation grow, so does the national reputation of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has become a significant player in health care reform and implementation.

The Princeton-based foundation approved late last year up to $425 million in 2013 grant funds for organizations researching and implementing ways for people to stay healthy at lower costs and improving access to care providers.

New Jersey is not only home to the foundation, but a highly effective test bed, said Dr. John Lumpkin, the senior vice president and director of

the health care group for the foundation. Because New Jersey's diverse population and geography are microcosms of the nation as a whole, ideas developed here can be reliably exported around the country.

For this reason, as well as to remain true to founder Robert Wood Johnson's intentions, $1.5 billion of the $10 billion in grants awarded in the past 40 years by the foundation has remained in New Jersey; currently, more than $131.8 million from the foundation is funding 151 projects here.

Lumpkin said every business in the state is helped by the foundation's work in at least three ways: a healthier work force, more attractive communities and less-costly health care.

"In many ways, the health of individuals is directly tied to where they live and where they work," Lumpkin said. "There is some evidence that is growing that parts of the country where they can demonstrate that their community is healthier is more likely to attract business."

The foundation also focuses on how changes in health care might make it more affordable for employers. That's why John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, closely follows its work.

"The work they're doing — in terms of summarizing the research they're funding and also aggregating the different evidenced-based research that's being done nationally and internationally — is a real important resource for us," Sarno said.

Sarno said the research funded by RWJF gives him insight to pass to employers on accountable-care organizations and changing physician payments, as well as whether to offer new health care models as part of the EANJ's health care trust. ACOs represent a new approach to health care delivery that seeks to coordinate medical care, engage patients in their own wellness, and improve health and control costs.

The RWJF research team has au-thored more than 41 issue briefs and journal articles about ACOs in the past 10 years, using new research from RWJF scholars as well as work culled from around the country.

"With business decisions, you need data and you need good information," Sarno said. "Some of it is a leap of faith, but we rely on folks like Robert Wood to provide the information so that these business decisions can be made."

Another hot-button issue on health reform has been end-of-life care; the foundation essentially created the field of palliative care — a holistic approach to symptom management for people with advanced diseases — as a result of 10 years and more than $170 million invested in the study of end-of-life

care. Palliative care, especially in New Jersey, is an issue given special attention for its potential to increase patient satisfaction while eliminating costly, unnecessary treatments.

One of the more visible areas of work for the foundation has included collaboration with the business sector on better nutrition and reducing childhood obesity. Working with Fresh Grocer, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and New Brunswick Development Corp., the foundation's $12 million investment in the New Jersey Food Access Initiative brought the first new grocery store to Johnson & Johnson's hometown in more than 20 years.

Nursing has been another area of focus for the foundation. Grant money from RWJF, combined with backing from the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce Foundation, helped create the New Jersey Nursing Initiative, a $30 million program that works to increase the number of master's and doctorate educated nurses who will go on to teach the next generation of care providers.

The chamber "felt it was important to participate, because they see the role of nursing and the impact on their businesses," Lumpkin said of the initiative. Goals such as better-educated nurses and more nurses working to the full extent of their licensure are ways to reach the goal of better health at lower prices.

Susan Bakewell-Sachs, dean of the nursing school at the College of New Jersey and program director for the NJNI, said the program launches careers for nurses and "maximizes their contributions" through teaching and research.

She added that the foundation takes "a comprehensive, multipronged approach addressing that nurses have the leadership and skills to affect change." By 2016, there will be 21 new nurse Ph.D.'s and 40 nurses who have completed master's degrees, who will represent the next generation of nurse faculty.

E-mail to: melindac@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @mcaliendo33

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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