RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute Receive $2Million Grant from Merck Foundation to Advance Equitable Cancer Care in New Jersey

West Orange, NJ, September 9, 2022RWJBarnabas Health, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute, the state’s leading cancer center and only National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, announced today that it is a grantee supported through the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care (the Alliance), an initiative funded by the Merck Foundation (the Foundation) and designed to make cancer care more equitable in the United States by helping patients living in underserved communities receive timely access to high-quality, culturally responsive care. RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute have been awarded a $2 million grant over five years.

“As the state’s only National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute, together with RWJBarnabas Health, is committed to providing outstanding cancer care to our diverse communities across the state. With the aid of this grant we will be able to further our work in New Jersey’s underserved and vulnerable populations, providing integrated multidisciplinary high-quality cancer care through evidence-based interventions,” said Steven Libutti, MD, FACS, Director, Rutgers Cancer Institute and Senior Vice President of Oncology Services, RWJBarnabas Health. “Our program will improve cancer health equity by addressing underlying Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), reduce barriers to care, lessen disparities and ensure access to the most comprehensive treatments close to home.”

Nearly 40 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups, those living in rural areas, low-income individuals and the uninsured are disproportionately affected by cancer, yet often have limited access to cancer screenings, care and treatment. In New Jersey, unequal health outcomes are often linked to race, ethnicity, geography, social and economic status, and other factors. While a cancer diagnosis alone can be overwhelming for individuals in vulnerable communities, when paired with SDOH challenges such as not having housing, transportation, access to medication, a healthy environment and/or healthy food, a positive outcome becomes less likely.

As a collective, Alliance program grantees will work to improve the coordination of patient care from diagnosis through survivorship; strengthen patient engagement in treatment decisions and overall patient-provider communication; build community partnerships that address barriers to care related to social determinants of health; and provide essential psychosocial support services.

Through the Alliance, RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute will streamline cancer care coordination by integrating with primary care and other subspecialty care; improve patient-centered communication and engagement of care; and improve assessments, including those addressing SDOH, and hasten referrals to supportive services.

Patients will see an improvement in the timeliness of care; better coordination between providers; ongoing support; increased use of telehealth for convenience; and more visibility for care in their communities via Community Advisory Board engagement and increased community outreach and education.

“The severity of the need to take action on advancing equity in cancer care cannot be overstated and will not be overlooked,” said Carmen Villar, CEO of the Merck Foundation. “We must move with urgency and work together to provide all people living with cancer access to high-quality care and treatment. The creation of the Alliance is an important step toward ensuring social determinants of health no longer factor into an individual’s ability to receive vital health care.”

In addition to RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute, Alliance program grantees include Boston Medical Center; Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University; Conquer Cancer®, the ASCO Foundation; Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; and University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center.

The Foundation is also supporting a National Program Office at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center, in partnership with the VCU Center on Health Disparities, which will assist Alliance program grantees in building partnerships with community-based organizations and provide technical assistance to support their programs. Additionally, the National Program Office will evaluate the effectiveness of Alliance programs and identify and promote best practices that can enhance the delivery of cancer care in the United States.

Alliance program grantees will convene regularly with the National Program Office to discuss learnings, share insights and explore tangible actions to support the delivery of equitable cancer care within their local communities and beyond. 

RWJBarnabas Health is the largest, most comprehensive academic health care system in New Jersey, with a service area covering eight counties with five million people. The system includes twelve acute care hospitals – Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, Community Medical Center in Toms River, Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, Jersey City Medical Center in Jersey City, Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus in Lakewood, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset in Somerville, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton in Hamilton, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway in Rahway and Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, three acute care children’s hospitals, Children’s Specialized Hospital with a network of outpatient pediatric rehabilitation centers, a freestanding 100-bed behavioral health center, two trauma centers, a satellite emergency department, ambulatory care centers, geriatric centers, the state’s largest behavioral health network, comprehensive home care and hospice programs, fitness and wellness centers, retail pharmacy services, affiliated medical groups, multi-site imaging centers and two accountable care organizations.

RWJBarnabas Health is among New Jersey’s largest private employers – with more than 38,000 employees and 9,000 physicians– and routinely captures national awards for outstanding quality and safety. RWJBarnabas Health launched an affiliation with Rutgers University to create New Jersey’s largest academic health care system. The collaboration aligns RWJBarnabas Health with Rutgers' education, research and clinical activities, including those at the Rutgers Cancer Institute - the state's only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center - and Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care. For more information, visit

About Rutgers Cancer Institute
As New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute, together with RWJBarnabas Health, offers the most advanced cancer treatment options including bone marrow transplantation, proton therapy, CAR T-cell therapy and complex surgical procedures.  Along with clinical trials and novel therapeutics such as precision medicine and immunotherapy – many of which are not widely available – patients have access to these cutting-edge therapies at Rutgers Cancer Institute in New Brunswick, Rutgers Cancer Institute at University Hospital in Newark, as well as through RWJBarnabas Health facilities.

About the Merck Foundation
The Merck Foundation is a U.S.-based, private charitable foundation. Established in 1957 by Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, the Foundation is funded entirely by the company and is Merck’s chief source of funding support to qualified non-profit charitable organizations. Since its inception, the Foundation has contributed nearly $1 billion to support important initiatives that address critical global health and societal needs that are consistent with Merck’s purpose: to save and improve lives around the world. For more information, visit

Contact: Carrie Cristello