Mayor Baraka: I strongly oppose the ‘merger’ of NJ Medical School, RWJ Medical School | Opinion - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Mayor Baraka: I strongly oppose the ‘merger’ of NJ Medical School, RWJ Medical School | Opinion

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By Ras Baraka

August 4, 2020

Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, located in New Brunswick, and the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), located in Newark, plan to become a single medical school. It is insultingly and dishonestly being referred to as a merger by the few that support it.

I strongly and wholeheartedly oppose what is only an unregulated and premeditated takeover that will leave Newark residents without critical resources. In a time where data clearly points to greater health disparities of people of color and those who live in urban areas, this proposed takeover is one of the ways that systemic racism rears its ugly head.

This proposed takeover would not only have significant and detrimental impacts on University Hospital, which would most definitely distress Newark residents but specifically our most vulnerable populations. It violates the Newark Agreements of 1968 and places the needs of the community of Newark and the greater Essex County region at risk of losing resources and services that can only lead to greater healthcare disparities.

In addition, the lack of transparency of this process is not only troubling but also downright offensive, given that we are currently in the midst of a global pandemic, where attention and resources should be on saving lives rather than making swift, baseless decisions that undoubtedly will impact the health and lives of residents of our greater Newark region.

I find it extremely troubling that an arrangement of this magnitude that will have an impact over taxpayer dollars for many years to come will not be governed by any state laws and regulations nor is there any impact analysis or assessment that shows how the deal will impact education, tuition, training, essential services and the workforce. Traditionally, any changes to a medical school in scope, composition, role, and/or location was only achieved through governmental review and regulatory authorization. Somehow, when it affects those that are disadvantaged, there can be found a way to bypass process and procedure altogether. This “merger” is being proposed without any public input: where are the public hearings?

During this critical time, NJMS must continue its strategic partnership with University Hospital, as there is too much at stake. Any alteration in the medical and economic obligations agreed upon could threaten University Hospital’s capability to continue the revitalization plan to expand and develop healthcare services.

NJMS’s significance to the city of Newark and surrounding communities, as well as to the State of New Jersey, should not be understated and cannot be disregarded. Its historical significance as the oldest school of medicine in New Jersey with a longstanding history must be taken into account.

I must also highlight the unique characteristics that provide an educational experience designed to transform its students into the medical leaders of the future, including it ranking as the No. 1 National Institutes of Health-funded institution in the state for basic science and clinical work and its ranking as the most diverse student bodies in the U.S. It is also one of only a few schools with an endowed Center for Humanism and Medicine, which embodies dignity and respect for all. And finally, through superior medical instruction, NJMS’ match rate (98%) exceeds the national average, placing our students in prestigious and highly competitive specialties nearly every year.

Given what is at stake, I request the following:

  • Any plans or discussions to takeover or merge NJMS be immediately stopped;
  • Universal Hospital remains the principal academic medical institution for Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
  • Rutgers honors its commitment to the City of Newark and the greater Newark area.
  • Include the residents of Newark in any discussion to dismantle the relationship between NJMS and University Hospital
  • Transparency and accountability is embedded in every part of this process.

Ensuring the public health of New Jersey’s residents during a global pandemic must be the top priority for us during this time.

Ras Baraka is the mayor of the City of Newark.