Hackensack University Health Network, Seton Hall to create medical school on former Roche campus

Jessica Perry//January 14, 2015

Hackensack University Health Network, Seton Hall to create medical school on former Roche campus

Jessica Perry//January 14, 2015

Hackensack University Health Network and Seton Hall University will announce Thursday that they have signed a memorandum of understanding to start a private four-year school of medicine to be located on the campus of the former Roche headquarters in North Jersey.The medical school will be the anchor tenant of the 119-acre property that resides on Route 3 and straddles Nutley and Clifton with a view of New York City. It is approximately 5 miles from both Hackensack and Seton Hall.

The organizers of the project aim to make the school a conduit for a world-class research facility that will attract researchers and pharmaceutical companies of all sizes to the campus.

The goal is to have the first class of approximately 125 to 150 students enter in the fall of 2017; the official name of the institution is still to be determined.

It is too soon to know just how many jobs will be created because of the vast scope of the project, but Hackensack and Seton Hall officials said the school alone could create 400 to 500 jobs. And hundreds of other jobs could be created through the other outlets on the campus, both said.

The developer of the project, to be selected by Roche, has not been announced, but those same officials said it has been made clear by Roche that the medical school will get favorable lease terms as well as a large say in how the rest of the campus is developed.

That being said, Hackensack and Seton Hall, which will share all capital costs 50-50, figure to invest “hundreds of millions of dollars in the first 10 years” to get things going, Hackensack officials said.

Hackensack CEO Robert C. Garrett calls the project “transformational.”

“It’s a game-changer,” he said. “Not just for Hackensack, but for the state of New Jersey to have this sort of project that will create several hundred jobs and spur economic development.”

Seton Hall President Dr. A. Gabriel Esteban says it is momentous.

“We take a different perspective (in higher education),” he said. “It’s not about now, but how it will impact things many years in the future. This will do that.”

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Both Garrett and Esteban praised Roche for its desire to help New Jersey move forward.

The company, which announced in June 2012 that it was pulling out of New Jersey, pushed to have the facility used for health care and has worked extensively on the deal, including providing all of the extensive remediation on the site.

“They have been a great corporate citizen,” Garrett said. “They wanted to ensure their legacy in New Jersey and they are doing just that. I can’t say enough about them.”

While this would be the state’s first private medical school, there are four public ones: two associated with Rutgers University and two with Rowan University.

Gov. Chris Christie will be the keynote speaker at Thursday’s announcement, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at the Roche campus.

Details of the project are still emerging, but here is what is known:

The school will offer programs in numerous disciplines, but will have an emphasis on producing doctors in areas of acute need (primary care, general surgery, OB/GYN) in an effort to combat the projected shortfall of doctors in New Jersey and around the country.

“There is a way to deal with this shortfall,” Garrett said. “Statistically, where there are schools, physicians stay and practice. And in this school the curriculum is going to be geared toward areas where we have an acute shortage. We’re not going to exclusively focus on those areas, but we will focus on those areas and emphasize them.”

Physicians and other health officials from the announced merger of Hackensack-Meridian Health Network will be a large part of the faculty. And while Hackensack University Medical Center figures to be the most heavily represented (due to its size and proximity to the location), officials from all 11 of the hospitals in the still-being-approved merger will be used. All 11 entities will become teaching hospitals.

Seton Hall is working on plans to relocate its School of Nursing and its School of Applied Medical Sciences to the facility.

This includes its programs in Physician Assistance, Athletic Training, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech and Language Pathology along with a Master’s in Health Administration and a Ph.D. in Health Sciences (research).

The move, still being worked on, would open up more space on the school’s main South Orange campus and also open up more room in its programs.

“If I had the space, I could increase enrollment in our allied health programs by 20 percent without any dip in the level of admissions,” Esteban said.

Creating a world-class research facility is a main goal — one made possible by the millions of dollars of state-of-the-art and ready-to-go research rooms already on the campus, thanks to Roche’s more than 80 years at the site.

“This is a piece that is very exciting,” Esteban said. “The labs are first-class.

“The first time I saw them I thought, ‘For me to build this, it would take a lot of zeros.’”

Garrett said he is hopeful both big and little pharma companies in the state will be encouraged to participate and collaborate. And he would welcome working with more universities, as well, noting Hackensack already collaborates in research with Georgetown, a school he indicated would have interest in relocating some researchers to the area.

“This facility and this plan can really attract top researchers; that’s the other piece,” Garrett said. “It’s not just about attracting great physicians and having a great medical school with first-rate medical students, but actually attracting researchers from other states — maybe from across the river in the New York, maybe from Philadelphia — to New Jersey.

“They would have the platform, the facility and the university stature they would be looking for to make a move and set up camp right here in our state.”

The actual medical school will take up only 14 acres of the 119-acre campus. But as the anchor tenant, representatives from Hackensack and Seton Hall will have a strong say in how the rest of the space is developed.

In addition to creating space for research, parts of the property likely will be developed for housing and a hotel as well as some small retail. In other words, everything people will need to work, study and live will be on the site or nearby — a huge plus for the area.

“There is certainly going to be a huge spillover effect for businesses in Nutley and Clifton and for all of Essex County,” Esteban said.

Thursday’s announcement is just the latest step in a long process that began years ago, when Garrett and Esteban began working on plans to add a medical school to their organizations — though each unaware of the other’s plans at the time.

Next up? All parties involved will complete their due diligence before signing a definitive agreement, potentially in the spring.

Then, while construction to retrofit the existing facilities and potentially build some others, the groups will work to obtain the necessary accreditations to open a school — a process that figures to last at least a year, into summer 2016.

At the same time, the parties involved will be working on setting up the logistics of the school: hiring a dean and a preclinical faculty, developing a curriculum and all things associated with student life, including selecting the first class.

And, of course, there are still the money issues to work out.

The project would seemingly fall in line with requirements for incentives from the EDA. In addition, Garrett said the group expects to find friendly assistance from the towns of Nutley and Clifton.

“We’ll remind the mayors that we need their help in terms of attractive tax structure to get the deal done,” he said.

But what a deal, Garrett said, this will be for New Jersey.

“All the news has been ‘This company’s leaving, that company’s leaving,’” he said. “This is a great story in that it’s a redevelopment of a huge parcel of land and we’re attracting new services and new jobs to the area.”


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