There are few more frightening words a patient can hear than “you have cancer.” Just about any other diagnosis – heart disease or diabetes, or an orthopedic injury – has patients immediately thinking they can get better with medication or a procedure. But a cancer diagnosis sends patients to a dark place, said Dr. Steven Libutti, director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and senior vice president, Oncology Services at RWJBarnabas Health.
Libutti is part of the development of what will be New Jersey’s first free-standing cancer hospital. The 12-story, 510,000-square-foot Jack & Sheryl Morris Cancer Center in New Brunswick will be a state-of-the-art facility featuring outpatient and inpatient capacity coupled with research laboratories, retail space and ancillary services devoted to patient wellness.
In June,shovels hit the ground marking the beginning to the estimated $750 million facilityy from RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute, in partnership with the New Brunswick Development Corp. The facility will be adjacent to the Rutgers Cancer Institute building, the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in New Jersey, and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. This proximity will enable research faculty to use its state-of-the-art labs to teach students and physician-scientists to translate research findings directly to treatments.
Libutti said he sees it as his mission to offer a place that can provide all New Jerseyans with exceptional cancer treatment. And he’s not alone in that sentiment. Jack Morris, the center’s namesake and a prominent real estate developer, feels just as empowered by the center’s development.
Morris said that when he partnered with Barry Ostrowsky, president and chief executive officer of RWJBarnabas Health, they talked of the great things that they might do together. Serving those with cancer was one of the topics and they knew they wanted to be able to compete with the other great health care systems and cancer centers around the country.
“Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey together with RWJBarnabas Health already serves as a destination for advanced cancer treatments including clinical trials, stem cell transplantation, proton therapy and CAR T-cell therapy, Ostrowsky said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “This trailblazing facility will help us further our mission in the delivery of outstanding comprehensive oncology care for our state and improving the health and well-being of our residents. Jack Morris has been the greatest champion of this project since its inception. The magnitude of this generosity propels Jack and Sheryl into the ranks of visionary philanthropists who have helped to change the course of healthcare in New Jersey.”
Morris said he’s been blessed to be a part of the institute’s development. “We continue that fight every day, life continues its trials and finding ways to cure people of this terrible disease cannot come without research. That’s what people want to be part of. Unfortunately, the ones who need it want to be part of the trial. And when you are sick, you don’t want to have to travel across the country. You want to be convenient for your loved ones. So again, this is part of what my life commitment to health care in New Jersey is to me. And I am very fortunate to have board members, that have supported me and that allow us to continue to do the great things that we do in health care.”
A Highland Park native, Morris was born in the facility when it was known as Middlesex General Hospital and not only does this project have a special place in his heart for that reason, but cancer has touched his life when he stood helpless as his grandmother suffered and passed away from the disease.
“I stood outside the hospital when my grandmother, may she rest in peace, was sick and was dying. And I said I wished there was something I could do. And at that time, there was nothing I could do. But when that time came that I could do something. I took that opportunity because if I did nothing, what kind of human being would I be. And that’s it in a nutshell. That’s what gives me motivation. Every time I walk in that hospital and every time I’m involved in another conversation. Another challenge to provide better health care and provide people the care that we didn’t have before … looking back today, if my grandmother was alive, she probably would still have been alive with the progress of treatment and research, in my opinion.”
The new facility will include a wide range of advanced oncology services offered by Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health, all under one roof. “To be able to be part of such a great health care system, one of the best in the country now, and to be part of the real growth of what is just transpiring to be such an opportunity for people to get care and that’s what it’s about to me — I’m truly blessed to be in this position, and I just can’t wait for the day when those doors of our cancer center open, and we can really give people the experience that I know they’ll get because I’ve been part of it. God forbid you need to be there, but if you do, it’ll be, it’ll be a place where every New Jerseyan and people from abroad, will come, and will get great treatment. I’m sure of it,” Morris said.
Libutti said that when complete the center will enable the hospital to more quickly translate groundbreaking discoveries from the laboratory directly to the patient in addition to providing numerous amenities critical to the cancer journey all in one footprint. “Keeping the patient at the center of all we do is paramount to bringing exceptional cancer care to our patients,” he noted. “The Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center will enable ease of access for imaging, other diagnostic tests, treatment and follow-up exams all in one space. It will also have the capacity to offer wellness and education resources including offerings catered specifically to the needs of cancer survivors.”
For outpatient care there will be a total of 84 infusion bays, 74 exam rooms, advanced radiology including four linear accelerators, diagnostic equipment, pharmacy facilities and outpatient urgent care. Inpatient care will benefit from 96 beds on three floors, a dedicated floor for surgical and procedure rooms (up to 11 total), a central sterile processing area and inpatient support spaces. “The patient doesn’t have to travel from doctor to doctor. All those doctors are right there at the same visit able to see the patient in one setting,” Libutti said.
A state-of-the-art infusion center will provide patients innovative treatments such as immunotherapy. lmaging will also be available. “This facility will really provide patients with everything they could receive traveling out of state to some well-known cancer hospitals, in New York or Philadelphia right here in central part of the New Jersey, Libutti said.
“Care and treatment are two sides of the same coin,” he added. “But cancer care is as important as cancer treatment. And so the best practices that we are establishing, and then making certain are a part of our service line — no matter where you’re receiving your care within the RWJ, Barnabas Health system, is really placing the patient first and revolving around the patient. Rather than the patient having to navigate all of this.”
The project is expected to be completed in 2024. Morris said he is already planning his next dream—building a children’s hospital. For him, there’s no stopping until he feels he has done all he’s could with the blessings he was given.