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Vanguard Series: Leaders in health care

Business publications tend to emphasize the accomplishments of those at the top of the org chart, and rightfully so. NJBIZ’s annual Power 100 list is one such venue for this; it is our capsule look at the key decision-makers who help power the engine that is New Jersey business.

But then there are those who are more behind the scenes or in the trenches. They may be executives who have had a major influence on policymaking, or subordinates who were among the primary drivers of breakthroughs, innovations or disruptions of the status quo.

With that as a backdrop, NJBIZ this week is launching the Vanguard Series, in which we will profile those who have been at the forefront of significant business breakthroughs in various industry sectors in the past year. We are kicking off this new series with leaders in health care, as chronicled by our health reporter Vince Calio.

We identified some of those on the initial list, and we also have endeavored to reach out to as many health care organizations as possible to get their insight on who they believe were the standouts of the past year. We thank those of you who contributed and pledge to be even more proactive as we expand the series to other industry sectors throughout the course of the year.

What follows are our first Vanguard Series profiles of the year: the leaders in health care. We hope you enjoy it.

Howard Burns
Editor, NJBIZ

Introducing the Vanguard Series: Leaders in health care

Additional Photos

Dr. Omar Baker
Dr. Omar Baker
Riverside Medical Group

Every doctor has a wish list of what they'd like to see Trenton do about of health care reform, but few actually have the power make it happen.

Dr. Omar Baker, co-president and chief quality officer at Riverside Medical Group, is actually one of the select few doctors who has Gov. Phil Murphy's ear. He was chosen to co-chair Murphy's Healthcare Transition Team due to his reputation as a health care reformer.

Many of the recommendations that Baker gave Murphy to bring real health care reform to the state have already come to fruition. That includes restoring funding for family planning, which Murphy signed into law in January.

Based on those recommendations, Murphy also proposed in his fiscal year 2019 budget to save the Children's Health Insurance Program and increase Medicare and Medicaid funding. Murphy also is expected to sign into law a bill that would eliminate surprise, out-of-network charges for patients in the state — legislation that had been debated for years within the state's health care industry, and was pushed hard for by Baker.

“Gov. Murphy and his team were responsive to all of our recommendations,” said Baker. “I am confident he will continue to act on them.”

In addition to helping to bring about reform, Baker was also busy expanding Riverside Medical. In the past year, he was named to the board of the New Jersey Innovation Institute, is working on moving Riverside Medical to a full-risk payment model and has helped nearly double its size.
Riverside Medical Group

Every doctor has a wish list of what they'd like to see Trenton do about of health care reform, but few actually have the power make it happen.

Dr. Omar Baker, co-president and chief quality officer at Riverside Medical Group, is actually one of the select few doctors who has Gov. Phil Murphy's ear. He was chosen to co-chair Murphy's Healthcare Transition Team due to his reputation as a health care reformer.

Many of the recommendations that Baker gave Murphy to bring real health care reform to the state have already come to fruition. That includes restoring funding for family planning, which Murphy signed into law in January.

Based on those recommendations, Murphy also proposed in his fiscal year 2019 budget to save the Children's Health Insurance Program and increase Medicare and Medicaid funding. Murphy also is expected to sign into law a bill that would eliminate surprise, out-of-network charges for patients in the state — legislation that had been debated for years within the state's health care industry, and was pushed hard for by Baker.

“Gov. Murphy and his team were responsive to all of our recommendations,” said Baker. “I am confident he will continue to act on them.”

In addition to helping to bring about reform, Baker was also busy expanding Riverside Medical. In the past year, he was named to the board of the New Jersey Innovation Institute, is working on moving Riverside Medical to a full-risk payment model and has helped nearly double its size.
New Jersey Hospital Association

When Cathy Bennett was chosen in September to replace long-time president of the New Jersey Hospital Association Betsy Ryan — the state's most powerful advocate of the health care industry — she had big shoes to fill.

Since then, Bennett has taken the challenge head-on and has been pressing for reform and promoting change, such as the movement towards addressing social determinants of health.

In December, she oversaw the group's annual Hospitals Economic Impact Report, which touts the influx of $23.4 billion into the state's economy in 2017 from the health care industry. She also has been a vociferous opponent of the health care cuts put forth by President Trump in his proposed budget, including those to Medicare and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

“The Medicaid cuts would be a major fiscal blow to the states, which could face $800 billion in cuts over the next decade,” said Bennett. “In New Jersey, access to care for 1.8 million of New Jersey's most vulnerable citizens would be at risk.”

While those cuts are still being debated in the U.S. Congress, Bennett has been an active voice in lobbying the state Legislature to support for Gov. Murphy's health care proposals, such as increased funding for medical education and Medicare and Medicaid.

Bennett is also on a mission to promote preventative care as a practice. “Our focus in 2018 needs to be on a more comprehensive approach to good health, especially recognizing that social determinants like housing, nutrition and education are key contributing factors,” she said.

Bennett advocated preventive care at the NJHA's annual stakeholders summit at the end of April and has overseen studies, such as the 2018 Community Benefit Report, showing that state hospitals spent $2.9 billion in preventative care in 2016.

Everyone has their own ideas on how to lower the costs of health care in the state, but some of the most prominent business leaders in New Jersey came together and took action during the past year.

Better Choices Better Care NJ was formed by a diverse and bipartisan group of board members including New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Tom Bracken; John Harmon, CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey; Lizette Delgado-Polanco, political director for the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters; and Eric Boyce, assistant administrator of the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Plan.

The group put together a comprehensive — and somewhat controversial — list of 15 recommendations for Gov. Phil Murphy to consider on ways to cut down the cost of medicine. They included prohibiting small employers from creating self-funded health care plans, requiring out-of-network specialists to participate in the same network of hospitals in which they practice, and asking the state create its own individual mandate for health insurance now that the federal government is phasing out the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

“This organization launched with the goal of engaging and educating the public, employers and elected representatives on how to change health care for the better,” said a spokesman for the organization. “The past year, however, has shown us that we can no longer remain on the sidelines. Health care has been a topic of intense national debate, but that debate has not yielded any significant positive policy changes or done much to lower the cost of care. With this plan, we are presenting 15 measures that we believe will actually lower costs, while providing better quality health care.”
RWJBarnabas Health

In a health care conglomerate as large as RWJBarnabas, making sure all the pieces of the system fit together while continuing to expand is a monumental task.

That's been the challenge for Thomas Biga, president of the system's hospital division. After helping to marry the Robert Wood Johnson and Barnabas health systems after they merged in 2015, Biga has spent the past year making sure that high care standards are uniform among the system's 30,000 employees across 11 hospitals, four children's hospitals and 33 outpatient centers.

He also has helped make sure the system's partnership with Rutgers University, including Rutgers Cancer Center, becomes a world-class cancer treatment center in the tri-state region.

On top of all that, he also is spearheading the system's plan to expand its ambulatory care centers in an effort to further RWJBarnabas' goal of offering its patients a full continuum of care, from primary doctors to specialists to hospital care.

“The key to doing this is to get all of our employees to buy into the high standards of care that are looking to maintain, and they have done that,” said Biga.
RWJBarnabas is in the midst of opening physician hubs in Edison, Bridgewater, Jersey City, Greenville, Ocean Township, Forked River and a second office in Eatontown. Like many of the large hospitals over the past year, RWJBarnabas is seeking to provide its patients with a one-stop shop for their medical needs by offering primary care in outpatient environments.

“These offices allow our patients access to their physicians in a more central location with specialists and other services — such as labs, pharmacy, imaging and surgery — readily available in those locations,” Biga said.
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

You know you're good at your job when the governor specifically calls you out for blocking legislation. That was the case this past year for Bill Castner, formerly senior vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs and now a consultant for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

Last summer, former Gov. Chris Christie wanted to pass a $35.5 billion state budget that would have allowed the government to raid Horizon's $2.4 billion reserve fund to help finance measures to fight the state's opioid crisis.

The proposal drew criticism from the state's health care industry, with many saying that tapping into the reserve fund would have put vulnerable customers at risk, since the fund is used to pay extraordinary claims for individual Medicare customers.

The measure was eventually defeated after a government shutdown. When it was, Christie lashed out at Castner, blaming him for creating a public relations campaign to discredit the legislation and saying publicly Castner “really isn't good at math” when criticizing him for being against the proposal.

Castner's influence didn't stop there. He was also instrumental in finally getting the much-debated “out-of-network” bills passed in both the Assembly and the Senate. The bills require hospitals to disclose to patients which out-of-network providers will be charging them beforehand, and allow for a state-regulated, binding arbitration process between patients and providers to settle costs for an out-of-network bill.

The bills, which are expected to be signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, had been debated for over a decade in the state, with proponents saying that surprise charges from out-of-network doctors can often bankrupt patients and drive up the cost of health care.

In addition to his role as consultant to Horizon, Castner was named by Murphy on May 7 to represent New Jersey in a multistate consortium seeking to clamp down on gun violence.
Cooper University Health Care

Cooper University Health Care is giving back to the U.S. Armed Forces, and trauma surgeon Dr. John Chovanes is leading the effort.

The U.S. Department of Defense and State Department send their elite military personnel to Cooper — prior to deployment — for medical training under Chovanes' leadership. When emergencies arise on a battlefield halfway across the world, Chovanes and his team provide medical officers with real-time guidance via its telemedicine program.

Chovanes also helped develop and implement Cooper's Special Operations Trauma Training Center, the only one of its kind in the nation to provide training to military special operations medics and providers from every branch. And he plays a leading role in the development and implementation of the State Department's Diplomatic Resources and Training, which helps enhance the security of chief-of-staff mission personnel engaged in high-risk environments around the world.

Action on the battlefield is nothing new to Chovanes, who enlisted as an officer in the Army Reserve Medical Corps in 2001. In one of his four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service and the Soldier's Medal for being among the first responders at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Because of Dr. Chovanes' leadership, charismatic passion and renowned reputation in the medical field, Cooper University Health Care is at the forefront of working with the highest levels of the military to provide training and support,” Cooper CEO Adrienne Kirby said.
RWJBarnabas Health

Chief corporate affairs officer at RWJBarnabas Health, Michellene Davis has become arguably the biggest name in the movement to address social determinants of health. In early April, Davis was chosen to lead RWJBarnabas' new Social Impact and Community Investment Department — a group that will lead the health care system's charge into community wellness.

Davis, however, had been working in this area long before that. She led RWJBarnabas' effort last October to hire and train 350 people in an area of Newark that has suffered chronic unemployment. She also oversaw efforts to build The Beth Greenhouse at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children's Hospital of New Jersey, both RWJBarnabas facilities.

On top of that, Davis is also the co-founder of the Healthcare Anchor Network, which launched just under a year ago. It is a collaboration of 40 health systems across the U.S. dedicated to establishing best practices in social determinants of health programs across the country.

“I am proudest of the fact that we are not just being providers, but that we are leaning, to a much greater extent, toward what it means to be a true community partner in a way that we are active listeners in the communities that we serve,” she said. “This program is a whole lot less ivory tower and a whole lot more about making long-term, sustainable system changes to help the communities we serve.”

As for the future of RWJBarnabas' new social determinant unit, “We are laser-focused on strategies that address needed changes in systems, structures and policy that will impact the long-term health and well-being of our neighbors who are food-insecure, who encounter challenges in access to safe neighborhoods and healthy environments, equitable educational resources or stable employment,” Davis said.
St. Joseph’s Health

Accountable care organizations are deemed vital to reforming the health care industry amid ever-rising costs.

Under the leadership of Dr. Michael DeLisi, medical director of Mission Health Coordinated Care for St. Joseph’s Health and head of the system’s ACO program, the group was the first chosen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to participate in its coordinated ACO Model.

ACOs are groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers who come together voluntarily to give coordinated high-quality care to their Medicare patients. The goal of coordinated care is to ensure patients get the right care at the right time, while avoiding unnecessary duplication of services and preventing medical errors. When an ACO succeeds, it engages in a shared savings plan with the Medicare program, thus lowering the cost of care.

Mission Health Coordinate Care will partner with more than 100 physicians in its network to coordinate care for over 8,000 state Medicare beneficiaries. Dubbed the “next generation ACO model” when launched a year ago, the program works to ensure patients’ access to high-quality care. The model also reflects the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ aim of setting clear, measurable goals and a timeline to move the Medicare program.

“This is about providing proactive care coordination outside the walls of the hospital, improving access to care and smoothing transitions,” DeLisi said. “Our new ACO will better coordinate care for members, especially those who have more significant needs due to multiple or severe chronic conditions.”
Medical Society of New Jersey

Larry Downs is helping solve one of the long-time problems in the state’s health care industry through the creation of OneHealth New Jersey.

OneHealth offers the state’s first platform that allows doctors across multiple offices and hospitals to share electronic payment records of their patients, thus preventing them from undergoing duplicate tests or procedures and lowering the cost of medical care.

This past year, Downs adopted the model from Kansas Medical Mutual Insurance Co.’s health solutions unit to create OneHealth. Previously, only large hospital systems shared patient data within their own networks.

“There is a huge business case for doctors in the community to get discharge information and information from their colleagues in other hospitals,” said Downs, the CEO of the Medical Society of New Jersey. “What OneHealth will do is to be able to connect those independent practices with the hospitals and vice versa, so that everyone can share data. OneHealth also has tremendous analytical tools for doctors. It will provide insightful data for doctors that don’t have big IT departments, so they can create some sort of registry and have some business intelligence.”

The platform rolled out in December and already has gained significant traction, he said. OneHealth has contracted with eight unspecified medical groups and is in talks with two large hospital systems as well.

“… Most private doctors still engage in fee-for-service, so OneHealth can help them by doing analytics for them to measure risk. I think this is going to be a real tipping point for doctors to get into value-based programs,” Downs said.
Cooper University Health

Dr. Anthony Dragun, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper University Health, published a much-noticed research paper this past year suggesting a way to cut the cost of breast cancer treatment in half without sacrificing the quality of care.

The paper was published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology and is based on clinical research Dragun began in 2011. The research showed an experimental regimen of a higher dose of weekly chemotherapy had comparable outcomes to the more conventional systematic plan of daily radiation while better treatment completion rates and lower costs.

“In our study, we’ve been able to reduce the cost by 50 to 60 percent, without jeopardizing the quality of care,” said Dragun. “Transportation, taking time off of work, family obligations and child care concerns — these are universal issues that breast cancer patients often have to take into consideration when facing treatment. This study’s promising results show that we can offer women more options without sacrificing outcomes.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper is planning a clinical trial, in conjunction with researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which will be available to patients locally later this year.

“In addition to comparable clinical outcomes, we found that giving women the choice of what type of treatment they want to receive increases the likelihood that they will complete their prescribed treatments,” Dragun said. “Finding time for daily treatments for six weeks or more is a barrier for many women.”
Hackensack Meridian Health

As vice president of life sciences and innovation at Hackensack Meridian Health, Sandra Elliott plays a key role in vetting entrepreneurs the network will support through its $25 million innovation fund. This year, the network issued its first two grants. One company created a health hub for the home, a small device that dispenses the proper dose of medication at the right time and allows patients to talk to their physicians via video conference. The second entrepreneur to be funded created a wearable monitor that better tracks vitals for patients suffering from congestive heart failure, one of the main reasons Medicare patients are hospitalized.

Elliott is integrally involved in running HMH's Bear Den program, which, similar to the TV show “Shark Tank,” vets health care and medical technology startups and includes venture capitalists, patent attorneys, clinical experts and financial and leadership representatives.

HMH recently conducted a Bear Den session during New Jersey Innovation Institute's Canada Health Day, in which Canadian health care startups came to pitch their ideas.

“Sandra [connects] entrepreneurs who dream of a more efficient and higher quality system with our veterans who are constantly scanning the horizon for breakthroughs to improve care,” one health care industry professional said.

Elliott has engaged more than a hundred HMH team members to make suggestions for products or ideas that could result in more efficient care delivery. She is also involved in some of the emerging research-based entities on the campus of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University.
New Jersey Department of Health

At 32, Dr. Shereef Elnahal is the youngest doctor to serve as commissioner of the state’s Department of Health after his appointment by Gov. Phil Murphy.

An appointee to the Veterans Administration by President Obama in 2015, Elnahal founded the Diffusion of Excellence Initiative, which established consistency in clinical care delivery and administrative best practices.

After co-chairing Murphy’s health care transition team, he was appointed in April to the DOH and has shown a desire for improving health care delivery in the state.

“The health challenges that many New Jersey residents face could not be more urgent,” Elnahal said in his acceptance speech, in which he listed opioid addiction and high health care costs as the top issues.

Elnahal has been vocal in his support of the recently signed Earned Sick and Safe Days Act, which allows workers in the public and private sectors to accrue sick days based on hours worked.

He also was a champion of “out-of-network” legislation awaiting Murphy’s signature. Those bills would eliminate surprise charges from specialists who are not participating in insurance networks.

Elnahal also is taking steps to require all surgical centers in the state, including one-room facilities not licensed by the DOH, to report adverse events to the department in order to prevent mistakes or accidents that result in death, coma, disability or the loss of a body part or bodily function. 

“This is to ensure that we make quality improvements, so those things don’t happen in the future,” he said. 
Atlantic Health System

Vice president of government relations and public affairs for Atlantic Health System, Madeline Ferraro continues to be one of the most important players in the state when it comes to health care regulation.

While she plays a major role through engaging directly with legislators, she also serves as architect and leader of Atlantic Health’s corporate strategic giving program. This past year, she oversaw the charitable distribution of over $1 million to aligned missions from the system’s 10 charitable foundations.

In late 2017, Ferraro was named to Gov. Murphy’s transition team as a member of the health care committee that helped put together a list of health care-related recommendations. Those suggestions led to the passage of a long-debated bill that reins in costs of out-of-network medical bills.

Other proposals based on those recommendations include preserving the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act to stabilize the health insurance markets; maintaining funding for children’s health insurance; enacting measures to fight the opioid crisis in the state; and keeping family planning clinics funded.

“Madeline has one of the most significant presences in Trenton and around the state,” said one state legal expert. “She has a strong voice among the power players in the sector and the Legislature, and has been an integral part of discussions centering around any key piece of health care legislation.”

Ferraro also served as an adjunct professor at the Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and was counsel to former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. She has also served at a deputy attorney general for the state representing the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.
Quest Diagnostics

As value-based care becomes more prevalent in the state’s health care industry, a renewed and urgent focus has been placed on analytics.

Health systems need to be able to pour over patient, health and financial records in the rush to improve outcomes. One of the people at the forefront of that effort is Lidia Fonseca, chief information officer at Madison-based Quest Diagnostics.

Fonseca is working with Humana, MultiPlan, Optum and UnitedHealthcare in a first-of-its-kind program to give New Jersey consumers better access to data on providers. Using blockchain technology —where digital information can be distributed but not copied to share transactional data — the program will offer a system through which consumers can identify and track providers.

“We are connected to more than 650 [electronic health record] platforms and a majority of health systems and physicians in the U.S.,” said Fonseca. “So we bring a unique level of insight into how to connect people and organizations across health care.”

Fonseca this year received the coveted Forbes CIO Innovation Award for overseeing the development of Quest Diagnostics’ Quanum data analytics and information technology solutions system, which helps providers and health plans connect and analyze data to improve population management and financial outcomes.
New Jersey Innovation Institute

New Jersey Innovation Institute has been at the forefront of health care innovation, and Tomas Gregorio, senior director of healthcare delivery systems, and Dr. Haro Hartounian, executive director for biotechnology and pharmaceutical innovation, have helped lead the charge.

NJII, a corporation of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, has completed the third year of its four-year project for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, in which it took data from 10,000 doctors nationwide and identified $120 million in costs savings.

It’s also developing the New Jersey Health Information Network, a project that studies ways in which to cut waste in the state’s health care industry by identifying each of the state’s 9.5 million residents with a unique number so a doctor anywhere in the U.S. will able to access an individual’s health information. The goal is to have the network fully operational within two years.

NJII and Rutgers University created the Continuous Manufacturing Institute in October to advance innovative technologies in the pharmaceutical industry. It will be the state’s first facility for continuous manufacturing of small molecules and biologics.

“This institute will be a collaborative platform led by the NJII and Rutgers, where the biopharmaceutical industry, technology developers, academia and government agencies address the biologics regulatory and manufacturing challenges of today and the future,” said Hartounian.

NJII also is partnering with Hackensack Meridian Health on the Agile Strategies Lab, which searches for and evaluates health care startup companies through a series of networking events.

“We’ve had 90 new companies that have gone through our Health IT Connections Program, and HMH has seen over 100 of these companies,” said Gregorio. “They are going through their whittling process to figure out which ones they would like to invest in or nurture even further, so it’s going very well so far.”
Office of the Attorney General, State of New Jersey

In the fight against the opioid epidemic, the state has a new sheriff: Sharon Joyce.

The acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, Attorney General Gurbir appointed Joyce as the head of the newly created Office of the New Jersey Coordinator of Addiction Response and Enforcement Strategies, or NJ Cares.

NJ Cares has become intimately involved in issues concerning opioid addiction and related public education, and is helping to identify possible preventive solutions to problems such as “doctor shopping” and the overprescribing of addictive painkillers. It also will oversee the creation of 24-hour Opioid Response Teams and data sharing among state agencies.

It also has launched the Interagency Drug Awareness Dashboard, as well as an information-sharing exchange that details opioid-related data between state agencies, including from the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program, an initiative to halt the abuse and diversion of prescription drugs, as well as law enforcement data on opioid-related arrests, naloxone administrations, fatal and nonfatal drug overdoses, and treatment information. The dashboard is being funded in part by a $600,000 federal grant.

In announcing the programs, Joyce said the intent was to “create partnerships throughout the state that will make us all stronger, better informed and more capable of defeating the scourge of addiction.”
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

Vice president of health care management at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Allen Karp has pioneered the implementation of value-based health care in the state.

Karp also oversaw the company’s recent efforts to marry primary care with behavioral health, an area in which the state lacks specialists. He led efforts to co-locate behavioral health practices within primary care offices of doctors in Horizon’s network to expand the continuum of care for patients and make behavioral care specialists more accessible.

Under Karp’s leadership, Horizon contracted with multiple vendors to identify patients who are at high risk for behavioral health issues. The company then forwards that data to patients’ primary care physicians.

Horizon also set up a video service so patients can consult with behavioral health specialists from their primary care doctor’s office.

“Let’s say a physician’s office is too small to co-locate with a behavioral health specialist. With this video console, a patient can visit with their primary care doctor and now go into another room with a social worker or counselor, and they will do the triage and connect them to a behavioral health provider,” Karp explained. “Being able to make behavioral health specialists available to them at the point of care is a huge, innovative move.”

Additionally, Karp and his team have continued to hammer out fee-for-value payment models with Horizon’s partners in its popular Omnia insurance plan. Those partners include Hackensack Meridian Health, RWJBarnabas Health Hunterdon Healthcare, and Summit Medical Group.

The group also continues to examine risk models factoring in social determinants of health in partnerships with RWJBarnabas Health.
Saint Peter's University Hospital

Reducing readmission rates and lengths of hospital stays, especially after surgery, has become one of the hallmarks of value-based care, but few hospitals are adapting technology to address that challenge.

Dr. Attila Kett, chair of Anesthesia at Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick, found a way to do so when he helped adapt a new application created by SeamlessMD for patients recovering from cesarean sections or total joint replacements. The hospital first implemented SeamlessMD for C-section patients in 2016.

The application, which can be used via smartphone, tablet and computers, includes reminders, tasks, daily milestone trackers and medical education to assist patients in their recovery. The app also allows doctors to monitor patients remotely using a real-time dashboard, allowing patients to stay connected with caregivers and receive automated feedback on how to self-manage common concerns.

“With SeamlessMD, our length of stay is dropping — even exceeding our optimistic predictions — because our patients now feel safe despite going home earlier, as they have the knowledge that we're able to monitor their recovery remotely and intervene should there be a problem,” said Kett.
Summit Health Management

Dr. Jeff Le Benger is not your ordinary CEO. The chief executive of Summit Health Management doesn't sit in a corner office, dishing out directives to his employees.

Rather, he has spent the past year expanding Summit Medical Group, the state's largest, independent multispecialty network of doctors, all while spreading its vision for patient-centered care.

In the past year, Le Benger negotiated with insurance companies to become the first network to offer a full-risk payment model — a shared savings system in which doctors bill insurance companies based upon fee-for-value service. Fee-for-value is a system in which doctors treat patients in an efficient, cost-saving manner that reduces excess tests and paperwork — and costs.

Le Benger executed plans to create Summit Medical Group Arizona, a move in which SMG joined 51 medical providers of Arizona Primary Care Physicians. SHM also agreed to provide administrative, clinical and financial management services to Bend Memorial Clinic, the largest independent multispecialty medical group in its region.

“These partnerships represent growing momentum for SHM's health care model and the company plans to roll out the same to even more mid- and large-sized physician practices across the U.S. before year's end,” Le Benger said. “The end goal — let patient-centered doctors be doctors.”

Le Benger also negotiated a deal to add Fair Lawn-based New Jersey Associates in Medicine to its network. The practice consists of 20 practitioners whose specialties include allergy/immunology, cardiology, gastroenterology, internal medicine, pulmonology, rheumatology and hematology/oncology.

The addition of NJAIM, he said, “significantly expands the footprint of Summit Medical Group further into densely-populated Bergen County and establishes Fair Lawn as our latest comprehensive care center hub.”

Additionally, SMG was also chosen by the American Medical Group Association for its cardiovascular disease Cohort of the Innovator Track, a 12-month program designed to develop new innovations in heart treatment for adults with Type 2 diabetes.
Brach Eichler LLC

With health care legislation dominating the headlines in the past year, providers needed legal experts to navigate them through the changing times.

Mark Manigan, a health care attorney with one of the state’s largest law firms, Brach Eichler LLC, was instrumental in doing just that. He helped push for a much-heralded state law that allows registered physician-owned, single-room surgical centers to obtain licenses from the New Jersey Department of Health and be exempt from physical plant standards of the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners.

Under the new law, all surgical centers will be exempt from costly ambulatory care facility assessment and licensing fees. The law eases the regulatory burdens on surgical practices and makes it easier for them to sell or expand their businesses.

“The key benefits of licensure include the fact that any physician can use your facility,” said Manigan. “Further, your facility is now salable to health systems and ambulatory service center management companies. You can also combine your facility with other ‘one rooms’ or licensed facilities to form a larger facility.”

Manigan also worked on a number of transactions helping health care systems align with outpatient providers, and assisted systems and physicians to restructure their practices to focus on shared savings opportunities.

He served on Gov. Phil Murphy’s health care transition team and was named Humanitarian of the Year by the Center for Great Expectations, a nonprofit organization for homeless pregnant women.
RWJBarnabas Health

Being charged with the responsibility for the integration of two major health care systems, as well as being head of the largest advocacy group of state hospitals, is enough to fill anyone’s plate. But for Amy Mansue, it’s all in a day’s work.

The president of RWJBarnabas Health’s Southern Region has spent over a year integrating the medical research from Rutgers University into the practices of the hospital system’s physicians. It’s no easy task getting 9,000 doctors from Rutgers to work with 2,500 doctors from Rutgers Medical School and Cancer Institute. Since the partnership was forged three years ago, Mansue has helped oversee a plan that maximizes talent and shaves costs.

“We had a plan to maximize synergies between the two organizations and over three years save $121 million. We actually did that in 18 months,” she said. “My ongoing accomplishment is bringing the two organizations together and working with Rutgers to create an academic health system that will benefit our patients. It’s an ongoing process. We’re looking forward to taking that academic medicine and the clinical trials and that great work at Rutgers and making sure that clinicians have access to it.”

Mansue replaced Steven Littleson, onetime president of Jersey Shore Medical Center, as chair of the New Jersey Hospital Association.

“What is past is prologue,” Mansue said in accepting the role. “Our 2018 mission statement — to improve the health of the people of New Jersey — is remarkably in line with the one that guided us in 1947. And our ‘true north’ remains focused on the people we care for.”
Vanguard Medical Group

While many health care organizations have declared that value-based care is the wave of the future, few are fully implementing it.

One organization that is: Cranford-based Vanguard Medical Group.

Dr. Thomas McCarrick, the group’s chief medical officer, led the effort to make Vanguard the first health care network to offer telehealth to all of its patients. Telehealth has become a chief component of value-based care, as it allows patients to access their doctors and get treatment remotely, often for an affordable flat fee.

Kaiser Permanente — the nation’s largest integrated managed care consortium, which has been practicing telemedicine since 2006 — reported for the first time that it treated a majority of its patients — some 52 percent, or 59 million — via telehealth. Other health care groups such as RWJBarnabas Health offer it either to their own employees or patients with special conditions, such as pediatric patients.

“I think telemedicine is more than the wave of the future,” said McCarrick. “Right now, this is something very new to us and we’re not used to treating patients this way, so we’re being very careful. But I do think that there will be more and more care delivered by technology, and there will be other ways in which telemedicine and technology will pull together.”

The service is only being offered to patients that have a history of treatment with Vanguard, which has used telehealth only for conditions that do not require an in-office visit. Such conditions include minor flu symptoms, pink eye, cold sores and minor skin conditions. The service could also be used for certain behavioral health issues.

Still, most agree that the service helps reduce the cost of health care, and makes it more efficient.

“In the end, this service helps us take better care of our patients, especially at a time when the industry is evolving towards value-based payment systems,” McCarrick said.
Valley Hospital

Telemedicine is quickly becoming a staple among providers in the growing movement toward patient-centered care.

This past year, Dr. Suneet Mittal, head of the Snyder Center for Comprehensive Atrial Fibrillation at Valley Hospital, helped take the concept of telemedicine one step further. In 2017, he helped implement virtual office visits for hospital patients suffering irregular heartbeats and those at risk for heart attacks.

Patients now can access Valley doctors via their computer, smartphone or tablet using real-time audio and video technology provided by SnapMD, which specializes in telemedicine and is partnered with Valley.

The service charges a flat fee of $49.99 that is not covered by health insurance but can be paid for through a patient’s flexible spending account.

“Our team believes in the total patient management approach,” Mittal said in a statement. “We work with patients to ensure they are getting the best available treatment for their atrial fibrillation, while also addressing other contributing health issues such as stress, hypertension, sleep apnea and obesity.”

Mittal was named chair of the unit when it was created in 2016 by parent Valley Health, and has been with the system since 2006. Since then, he has helped turn the unit into one of the premiere heart specialty units. Last year, it was nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best cardiovascular and heart surgery centers in the U.S.
Trinitas Regional Medical Center

It’s not just doctors who save peoples’ lives.

Gerard “Rod” Muench, the director of prehospital services at Elizabeth-based Trinitas Regional Medical Center and a registered nurse, has saved hundreds of lives of heart attack patients in a career spanning 30 years.

Last year, his efforts to speed up care in the field for heart attack patients led to Trinitas and the Elizabeth Fire Department jointly receiving the Mission Lifeline Award from the American Heart Association.

Muench’s work as a paramedic educator also is highly regarded, as he has continued to lead the annual, statewide EMS Symposium designed to bring the latest emergency training methods to EMTs, nurses, physicians and other personnel. He also helped to establish a Medical Explorers Post at Trinitas for teens and young adults aged 15-20.

Today, he continues to oversee Trinitas’ mobile intensive care units, mobile intergraded health services, critical care transport unit, ambulance service, dispatch center and the AHA’s Training Center.
Morristown Medical Center

Atlantic Health System’s Morristown Medical Center has become one of the premiere hospitals in the state, thanks in large part to its president, Dr. Trish O’Keefe.

O’Keefe began her remarkable career at Atlantic Health as a bedside nurse at Morristown Medical over two decades ago, when it was Morristown Memorial Hospital, where she rose in 1996 to become the system’s youngest chief nursing officer, overseeing 1,500 nurses.

She was named interim president in 2015 and a year later was appointed president. Under her leadership, Morristown Medical was the only hospital in New Jersey and one of just 12 in the U.S. to receive three of the highest health care industry honors — America’s 50 Best Hospitals by HealthGrades, an “A” safety grade by Leapfrog each year since 2015 and five stars from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2017.

Additionally, Morristown Medical has received the designation as an American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Hospital for Nursing Excellence four times.

O’Keefe also is active in the Morris County Chamber of Commerce. She sits on boards for the NJ Sharing Network, Seton Hall University President’s Advisory Board, Organization of Nurse Executives in New Jersey and the Salvation Army of Morris County.

Dr. Howard Orel, a pediatrician and one of Advocare's founders, is overseeing the network's expansion into the urgent care market — a service that is sorely needed in the low-income neighborhoods south of Trenton, where the doctors-per-capita ratio is traditionally lower than in North Jersey.

Advocare has 175 primary and multispecialty offices throughout New Jersey and plans to open about a dozen new urgent care offices designed to meet the immediate needs of patients.

“The centers will be open in several markets where our practices are located for both pediatric and adult urgent care, and for patients whose needs are greater than we can currently meet in an office setting but not sufficient for someone to go to the emergency room,” Orel said

At Advocare's urgent care centers, patients will have access to care during off-hours, Orel said.

“The patient's care providers will have access to their electronic health records so that the patient's primary care doctor is aware of what is happening almost in real time,” he said. “So when the primary care doctor comes in to the office in the morning, that doctor knows what's happened, and if a follow-up is needed, our offices can be proactive in arranging that.”

Orel also said the expansion into urgent care fits with the company's philosophy of providing patients with increased accessibility to medical care and its patient-centered model.
Hackensack Meridian Health

Chief innovation officer at HMH, Dr. Andrew Pecora helped negotiate New Jersey’s first bundled payment plan for breast cancer patients in commercial insurance plans.

While bundled payment options are offered through Medicare, HMH’s bundled payment option could be a revolutionary move in value-based medicine as it is the first time such an option is being offered customers of a traditional insurance plan.

Breast cancer patients at HMH’s John Theurer Cancer Center can make an upfront payment for breast cancer treatment for up to one year, covered by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

“This bundled payment will cover radiation services as well as ancillary treatments, such as plastic surgery, and it will be done in a cost-effective way without sacrificing quality of service,” Pecora said.

He also helped launched a protoype of a mobile device application that allows patients to access and update their health record information, join patient chat groups and make appointments. The application is the first of its kind in the state.

“The app will allow the patient to plug in to our system and have access to a GPS-type device,” Pecora said. “It will enable them to follow the course of their care and for us to guide them to help make appointments and to enable us to follow the course of their care and guide them when they need guidance.”

Pecora is no stranger to the world to disruptive technology. In 2011, he launched Cancer Outcomes Tracking and Analysis, a program that uses computers to help with diagnoses. He spun out the company after one year to continue to serve as an oncologist and helped bring his former employer, Memorial Sloan Kettering, from New York into New Jersey. HMH has an alliance with MSK for cancer care and plans to open a new, jointly run cancer care facility by the end of this year.
Atlantic Health

The CEO of its Hospital Division and senior vice president of integrated care delivery, Amy Perry spent much of last year building Atlantic Health into one of the top-rated health care providers in the state without getting caught up in excessive merger and acquisition activity.

Atlantic Health consists of six hospitals and is the state’s fourth-largest health care system. Perry is overseeing the expansion of the its ambulatory care network and plans to organically grow Atlantic Health with the addition of 16 primary and specialty care satellite offices this year throughout New Jersey to expand its continuum of care — an effort many systems are seeking to undertake through acquisitions of already-established doctor offices.

“We’re not worried about consolidation, that’s not the reason for us to make strategic decisions,” she said. “We’re trying to achieve quality outcomes and improve the care for our patients. If that requires us to buy another hospital, we will, but size is not our endgame.”

Perry is also integrally involved in Atlantic Health’s partnership with CentraState Healthcare System, St. Joseph’s Health, Holy Name Medical Center, Hunterdon Healthcare and Saint Peter’s Healthcare System in the Healthcare Transformation Consortium, whose goal is to improve access to high quality health care for the combined 50,000 employees of each entity and their dependents while reducing costs. The partnership is a first for the state and is being closely watched by health care professionals across New Jersey.

“It’s really creating a new way for us to connect acute care and health care providers throughout the state to improve affordability,” Perry said. “We want to focus on best practices that break the traditional barriers of one health system not partnering with another. We’ve really loved the collaboration and the team approach to this, because we all have the common interest of improving care for our employees and achieving a higher level of affordability.”
Celgene Corp.

Health care organizations are jumping on to the bandwagon of immunotherapy as the future of cancer care — a big business in New Jersey health circles.

Mayo Pujols, Celgene Corp.’s vice president of CAR T manufacturing and technology, is one of the pioneers who is helping build the bandwagon. The Summit-based pharmaceutical company is making big bets on immunotherapy including a revolutionary, life-saving treatment for B-cell lymphoma, a rare type of blood cancer that is often fatal to those who suffered from it.

Pujols is overseeing the effort to open Celgene’s 135,000-square-foot CAR T cell therapy facility on its Summit campus.

“We wanted to ensure that we had a patient-centric model that supports our goal of flawless execution and rapid, compliant production,” said Pujols earlier this year. “We aim to see every patient getting their therapy back in that manner and so it made sense for us to build the capability in house.”

Pujols is also leading Celgene’s partnership with the New Jersey Innovation Institute at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in creating the state’s first-ever training program for biopharmaceutical companies to study new immunotherapies, such as CAR-T cell therapy. The program will combine lectures and hands-on training to introduce the newest approaches and technologies applied to the development and production of these innovative therapies.

He also is coordinating efforts with Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company specializing in immunotherapy that Celgene acquired last June for $1 billion. The deal was the biggest pharma acquisition by a New Jersey company in 2017.

Immunotherapy is a treatment in which cells in the human body are recoded and injected back into a patient in order to train the patient’s immune system to fight various diseases such as cancer.
New Jersey Association of Insurance Providers

With all the changes that were either made or proposed regarding the Affordable Care Act, last year was one of the most tumultuous in the health insurance sector. Wardell “Ward” Sanders, president of the New Jersey Association of Insurance Providers, helped stakeholders work through the chaos.

After failing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Congress complicated the individual market by cutting the open enrollment period for insurance in half and threatening to slash cost-sharing subsidies.

Through speaking engagements, testimony and interviews, Sanders worked closely with the insurance industry to help educate the public when health insurance premiums rose in the state due to uncertainty surrounding plans for health care reform.

Meantime, he also is helping Gov. Murphy and the Legislature tackle the many health care issues facing the state.

“The challenge going forward will be to navigate these and other changes with limited state funding opportunities,” said Sanders. “After 10 years, the stars seem to be finally aligned to tackle out-of-network reform, ending surprise billing and price gouging for services where consumers had no choice in their provider.”
Brighton Health Plan Solutions

One of the biggest complaints in New Jersey is that while the cost of health care continues to rise, quality of care has not kept pace.

Simeon Schindelman aims to solve the problem by introducing an old economic concept to the industry: “Competition can be good for the consumer.”

The founder and CEO of Brighton Health Plan Solutions launched the novel Create platform for New Jersey residents who are members of corporate-, government- or labor-sponsored health care plans. Though it is still new, Create allows health plan members to choose providers based on competitive bids from providers who have signed on to it, thus helping to drive down the cost of care.

New Jersey providers Hackensack Meridian Health and Englewood Hospital and New York-based Long Island Health Network already have signed on to the platform since its launch in September, and Schindelman said more are expected in the coming year. The providers will form accountable care organizations with Brighton and compete for business from health benefit providers.

Schindelman said the Create system increases quality of care because it encourages patients to build long-term relationships with a single health care system while lowering costs. The rationale is it creates competition between providers and steers patients to systems focused on providing value-based care.

“We’re trying to change the nature of the way people buy health care,” said Schindelman. “Create was launched as a result of us evaluating and thinking about what can we do to unravel this conundrum of increasing health care costs while it’s not obvious that quality of care is getting better. We think Create solves that problem.”
Atlantic Health System

For the past three years, Dr. Jan Schwarz-Miller, chief medical and academic officer at Atlantic Health System, has helped make Morristown Medical Center the standard for safety.

She also is representing the health system in an agreement with Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia to establish branch campuses at its hospitals in Morristown and Summit in July.

Under Schwarz-Miller’s leadership, Morristown Medical Center has received an “A” safety grade from Leapfrog every year since 2015, one of only seven hospitals in the state to do so. The hospital began receiving “A” grades shortly after she was promoted to her position five years ago.

In her 20 years at Atlantic Health, she has supervised system-wide departments, including occupational medicine service and wellness and infection prevention.

During her tenure, Morristown Medical Overlook Medical Center and Newton Medical Center have been recognized as Leaders in LGBT Healthcare Equality by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, and the company itself was once again named as one of the 100 Best Workplaces for Milllennials in the Country by Fortune magazine.
Hackensack Meridian Health

As the state continues to struggle with the spread of opioid addiction, health experts agree any solution must involve a coordinated effort between primary care doctors, addiction counselors and behavioral health specialists.

Dr. Ramon Solhkhah, chairman of the department of psychiatry at Hackensack Meridian Health's Jersey Shore University Medical Center, is turning that solution into action. He heads a new addiction outreach program in HMH's newly constructed $265 million HOPE Tower — a program intended to educate the public on addiction and offer advice to the families of those suffering from it.

“Most people have a relationship with their primary care physicians so as we educate the primary care network, we can get them comfortable with identifying these disorders so they can make appropriate referrals to treatment,” said Solhkhah, adding one in four adult Americans is affected by a substance abuse disorder.

Solhkhah also helped coordinate efforts between HMH and Carrier Clinic, a New Jersey-based addiction treatment center network, to provide 24-hour access to mental health services. These include addiction treatment, bringing together psychiatrists, primary care physicians and nurses from both entities.

The proposed partnership will help Solhkhah — who has dedicated his career to helping people overcome addiction — put into action his team approach to treating addiction, rather than simply cutting off the supply of opioids to patients who have become addicted.

“At Jersey Shore, we've built up a strong research component to our addiction treatment,” he said. “And I think there is a bright future ahead in terms of clinical research. Right now, if you're a cancer patient, you can enroll in a clinical trial, where doctors are working to solve your particular illness. And that's part of what I'd like to see over the next decade for mental health: clinical research taking a deeper look at medicines that can help with our addiction crisis.”
Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall

The projected shortage of doctors in New Jersey is a concern, but no one is perhaps more qualified to address the problem than Dr. Bonita Stanton, dean of the state’s newest medical school, Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall.

Stanton, a long-time researcher at the National Institutes of Health and a pediatrician by trade, aims to keep future doctors in New Jersey and educate them to meet the rising health care challenges physicians will face in the future.

“Our students will understand … healing a patient is an honor, curing is a relief and preventing illness is a victory,” Stanton said in a recent statement. “But maximizing the potential of all persons is a triumph for all of humankind, and we have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to make this happen.”

Stanton is overseeing the creation of a collaborative and innovative medical education program in conjunction with Seton Hall University that will encompass the entire spectrum of health education, health care, research and biotechnology while working across health-related professions.

The school, located on the former 116-acre Hoffmann-LaRoche Campus in Nutley and Clifton, will place an emphasis on primary care, and is set to welcome its inaugural class of 55 students in July. Students will be offered residencies at one of Hackensack Meridian Health’s 16 hospitals across the state as a way to encourage students to practice in New Jersey after they graduate.
Cooper University Health Care

Improving heart medicine is one the goals among cardiac specialists, so when a breakthrough study is published, it gets the industry’s attention.

Dr. Stephen Trzeciak, principal investigator of the research and professor of medicine at Cooper University Health, published a groundbreaking paper this past year that studied the effects of too much oxygen for a patient who has suffered cardiac arrest. The results of the research flew in the face of conventional wisdom, finding that an excess of oxygen could indeed be harmful to the patient.

Under the supervision of Trzeciak, Cooper University Hospital was the coordinating center for the study. It was conducted in collaboration with Indiana University School of Medicine, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Penn-Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Of 280 adult patients at the six hospitals resuscitated from cardiac arrest and given excess oxygen, 70 percent died in the hospital or survived to hospital discharge with severe brain injury. Further analysis showed that on average, for each hour-plus duration of hyperoxia exposure, there was an additional 3 percent increase in patients’ risk of death or severe brain injury.

The paper is expected to change the way cardiac patients are treated.

“While intuitively it may seem that more oxygen is better, the conclusions of this study support our hypothesis that excessively high oxygen levels after resuscitation from cardiac arrest may actually cause further harm to patients,” Trzeciak said. “The next step in this line of research is a clinical trial to determine the best method of reducing supplemental oxygen and preventing hyperoxia exposure to improve outcomes for victims of cardiac arrest.”
Villa Marie Claire / Holy Name Medical Center

As the state’s population ages, the importance of end-of-life, or palliative care, has continued to increase.

One of the biggest champions of providing sufficient and affordable end-of-life care in the state is Dr. Charles Vialotti, medical director at Villa Marie Claire, a hospice in Saddle River run by Holy Name Medical Center.

In the past year, Villa Marie received a $5 million grant from the state and a visit from the state’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, who praised the facility in conjunction with the creation of the New Jersey Advisory Council on End-of-Life Care, which will soon make recommendations on how to improve palliative care.

“The mission of [Holy Name CEO] Mike Maron and our joint vision of creating methodology where we can begin to encourage people to understand the importance of people expressing how to spend their final years has been something very rewarding,” Vialotti said.

A portion of the grant money, he added, is being used to create a video series to educate both the public, health care providers and patients on best practices for end-of-life care. It also is creating a program in which the elderly or those suffering from a life-ending illness can express their wishes on how they wish to be cared for in their final days.

“End-of-life care is generally not a subject that primary care doctors like to talk about,” Vialotti said. “What the video series will do, hopefully, is to educate them on the best ways to broach that subject with their patients.”

Vialotti also is writing a white paper for health insurance providers to offer greater reimbursement for end-of-life care.

“That has been challenging so far,” he said.
New Jersey State Senate

The consensus is New Jersey needs health care reform, and no legislator has been a bigger champion of change than state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-19th District, and chair of the state Senate’s Health Care Committee.

Vitale has sponsored or co-sponsored some of the most highly-debated health care legislation in 2017 and 2018, centering on issues that have been hotly contested for years.

Currently being debated is a Vitale-sponsored bill that would allow independent hospital systems to apply to the state Department of Health to perform elective angioplasties if certain qualifications are met.

For years, elective angioplasties have represented a lucrative business for select hospitals with specialty cardiac units. Independent hospitals have said existing regulations are unfair because medical technology and training have made the procedures more routine.

Vitale also sponsored a bill calling for minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, a subject that’s been debated for years by groups such as the New Jersey State Nurses Association and NJ Safe Ratios, a consortium of nurses that is lobbying for the bill.

But perhaps Vitale’s biggest accomplishment was sponsoring and pushing through the passage of the highly controversial “out-of-network” bill through the Senate. The bill would require hospitals to inform patients if they are to be treated by out-of-network specialists before undergoing any procedure, and requires arbitration between insurance companies and specialists to set a fair price for the services of specialists who are not part of a health insurance network.
Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care

Dr. Michael Wesson, co-director of radiation oncology at Paramus-based Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care and clinical assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, helped revolutionize breast cancer treatment during the past year.

He did so by implementing Breast IORT, a new radiation treatment used in the operating room following surgery to remove breast tumors.

The lumpectomy treatment is intended to eliminate the need for weeks of post-surgery radiation therapy, which should translate to shorter treatment times, fewer side effects, reduced costs and an improved quality of life for breast cancer patients. The procedure also limits radiation exposure to the heart, and is available to patients 50 and older with early stage breast cancer.

“The IORT procedure uses a miniaturized X-ray source to deliver a full course of targeted radiation from inside the body, directly within the tumor cavity where the cancer is most likely to recur,” Wesson said. “This destroys cancer cells while reducing the risk of damage to nearby healthy tissues, including the heart, lungs and ribs.”

Considered one of the top radiation oncologists in the U.S., Wesson has helped maintain Valley-Mount Sinai’s reputation as one of the best cancer treatment centers in the state. He joined the center at its launch in 2016 after serving at Valley Health System since 1993.

Wesson is also assistant editor of the Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine and began his career in the Infectious Disease Committee at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Atlantic Health System

The chief transformation officer at Atlantic Health System, Joseph Wilkins oversaw the launch of a new and unique internal innovation program.

Dubbed the AHa! Program, it is an internal incubator that encourages Atlantic Health’s 16,000 employees to develop medical devices and other products that can improve and lower the cost of health care.

AHa! offers a blueprint for launching medical startups while bolstering its own bottom line. Atlantic Health would split royalties with investors of any new product that is developed and commercialized under the new program.

The first product to arrive in November, called the Insulin Safety Secure Initiative Box, is a storage system for excess insulin that separates various types of insulin to avoid confusion and waste. It was developed by a pharmacist and nurse at Atlantic Health.

The product was funded by Atlantic Health and could save the system $100,000 per year.

Said Wilkins: “With the AHa! Program, we help facilitate that. The ideas are coming from the physicians who see patients every day, and nurses that care for patients every day.”

Atlantic Health didn’t need to construct an internal incubation lab, he added.

“The incubation lab is pretty much virtual,” said Wilkins. “We do have a ton of different facilities, so this all will happen within the day-to-day work of our team members. We have a website that we can capture all of the ideas and proceed with the innovation process. The excitement among our employees is well beyond our expectations.”
Christ Hospital

Dr. Peter “Tucker” Woods, chief medical officer at CarePoint Health’s Christ Hospital in Jersey City, has overseen innovations to help address the opioid addiction crisis.

Christ Hospital’s emergency room created the Shifting the Opioid Paradigm program, which has developed new ways to treat pain without the use of opioids.

“When patients come into our ER, we’ll grab a different medication that treats pain better than opioids and is non-addictive,” said Woods. “For example, we administer Lidocaine through the IV or use nitrous oxide instead of opioids if you come in with back pain or a migraine. We’ve basically removed Dilaudid, a common opioid, from our ER.”

Under Woods’ leadership, Christ Hospital also initiated a system-wide program to treat blood infections, or sepsis, which reduced the mortality rate during the past year from more than 50 percent to under 30 percent.

“It’s a big program to reduce mortality, and it’s saved hundreds of lives and improved recognition and treatment of sepsis statewide,” he said.

Woods also helped oversee the implementation of CarePoint Connect, a telehealth feature that allows ER patients to receive follow-up care via videoconferencing from their home or office. The service can allow doctors to increase or change medications when needed.

The 376-bed hospital also initiated a program to treat members of the LBGTQ community, who often fear discrimination and have unique health conditions.

“We have a big LBGTQ community here in Hudson County, and we’re building infrastructure to treat them,” Woods said.

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