For Barry Ostrowsky, being president and CEO of RWJBarnabas Health is more than just providing healthcare services to people when they are sick or injured.
“You have to get into the communities and understand that the healthcare services that we provide on their own don’t necessarily create healthier communities,” Ostrowsky says.
Understanding the impact of social determinants and the economic base of a community – things that Ostrowsky familiarized himself with while studying urban planning decades ago – play a role in the health of people. “[These things] mean a lot more to me right now because of their relevance to our mission,” he says.
The healthcare industry as a whole is beginning to look at what impacts the health of the community, as opposed to just looking at how to maximize selling healthcare services.
“We believe ourselves to be a health company as opposed to a healthcare company,” Ostrowsky says. “You have to be invested in creating good health as opposed to just selling healthcare services. That means you do have to invest in the community.”
For example, RWJBarnabas – the largest healthcare system in New Jersey – is leveraging technology to help educate individuals on how to better take care of themselves. From digital check-ups, to video chats with real physicians, patients can absorb key information on how to live a healthy lifestyle, without ever leaving their home.
Ostrowsky says that communication, both in language and modality, is key.
“[The healthcare industry] needs to better understand how to communicate with the members of its community to encourage better lifestyle choices,” he says. “All the fancy [medical] technology is great, but I’d love for you to never have to use it if we can keep you healthy.”
RWJBarnabas Health’s partnership with Rutgers University has afforded Ostrowsky’s health network with plenty of opportunities as well.
RWJBarnabas Health will invest $100 million initially – and then more than one billion dollars over 20 years – to expand the education and research mission of the integrated academic health system.
RWJBarnabas Health will also fund the construction of a new clinical and research building for the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey as well as a new ambulatory care center, both in New Brunswick.
“[The partnership] enables us to invest in serious medical research as well as invest in recruiting academic and clinical physicians,” he says. “It also gives us an intimate relationship with the pipeline of the new clinicians. … This partnership is critical to our aspirational goals, and good for the citizens of New Jersey.”
Ostrowsky feels that the partnership can be particularly impactful due to Rutgers’ prowess as a leading research university, which spans not only conventional healthcare, but also social determinants like food insecurity, crime and poverty – all leading back to the goal of creating healthier communities.
“If you can engage on the health side as opposed to exclusively on the sickness side, and if you can have effective communication and education with the general public as well as replenish the clinical ranks with new and best-trained professionals, I think you’d have a legacy as an industry that would be admirable,” Ostrowsky concludes.
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