COVID-19 is a rapidly growing threat to communities around the world. It is powerful and relentless—but it is not unbeatable. To confront and combat this microbial enemy, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) has established the Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness (CCRP2). Designed to be an institutional hub for COVID-19 research activities and public outreach, the center brings the best Rutgers has to offer—world-class clinical and technological infrastructure, cutting-edge research programs, and respected scientists—to help conquer the defining crisis of our time.
Rutgers has emerged as a major participant in the anti-COVID-19 battle through its collaboration with molecular research company Cepheid on a recently evaluated point-of-care test for the virus. David Alland, chief of infectious diseases at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and director of the Public Health Research Institute, helped develop the test along with his colleagues Padmapriya Banada and Sukalyani Banik. This groundbreaking diagnostic test will enable decentralized testing for COVID-19, even in physicians’ offices, permitting physicians to make rapid decisions about quarantine, hospitalization, and treatments. “The test performed even better than our expectations,” Alland says, “and we are encouraged about the potential to help control the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Alland recently added a new role to his many responsibilities at Rutgers, serving as the first director of the CCRP2. In a statement announcing the new center, RBHS chancellor Brian Strom, Rutgers University–New Brunswick chancellor Christopher Molloy, and David Kimball, senior vice president of Rutgers’ Office of Research and Economic Development, praised Alland’s work in epidemiology. “We have no doubt that CCRP2 will be a nationally renowned center not only related to COVID-19 research, but also other serious infection-related research and preparedness,” the three said in a statement.
Although RBHS is a hub of cutting-edge medical research, it is encountering the same challenges that face health care providers nationwide. In a recent statement, Strom described a dire need for key medical supplies, especially personal protective devices for medical professionals as they provide treatment and conduct studies. The Rutgers COVID-19 Response Fund directly supports RBHS’s efforts to combat this horrific pandemic. Donations to this fund can be made quickly and easily, and will support clinical care, research, and education at RBHS, the state’s leading academic medical center.
“Dollars to support these areas of research are urgently needed and can’t arrive fast enough,” Strom says. Emphasizing this unprecedented level of urgency, he encouraged all community members to rally behind “our scientists, physicians, nurses, and medical students (as they) continue responding heroically to the spread of COVID-19.”
Rutgers has created a new center to coordinate the university’s myriad research and public health and outreach efforts to combat COVID-19.
“Given our expertise and the health needs at the state and national levels, we are excited to announce the establishment of the Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness to address SARS CoV-2, the causative pathogen of COVID-19, and other emerging pathogen threats,” said Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) and executive vice president for Health Affairs.
The center’s goal is to serve as an institutional hub for Rutgers’ COVID-19 research activities and information dissemination.
David Alland, director of Rutgers’ Public Health Research Institute and chief of infectious diseases at New Jersey Medical School, will serve as the director of the new center, which will operate within the Rutgers Institute for Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases (i3D). He will work closely with a scientific advisory board that will provide input and guidance. Alland is internationally recognized for his pioneering work on the epidemiology, diagnosis, treatment and molecular evolution of M. tuberculosis, and he has been a leader in the development of rapid diagnostic tests for infectious biothreats. His lab also played a crucial role in evaluating a new test for SARS CoV-2.
“I’m very excited about this opportunity and look forward to working in every way possible with the Rutgers research community as well as external stakeholders and partners,” Alland said.
Institutional resources from RBHS, Rutgers’ Office of Research and Economic Development and Rutgers-New Brunswick will be made available to the new center in an effort to secure external funding for additional research.
Over the last several months, Rutgers has rapidly responded to the COVID-19 pandemic using strengths that collectively are unique to the university. These strengths include the Rutgers Institute for Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases (i3D), a global leader in infectious disease research; NJMS/i3D biosafety level 3 laboratories that are equipped to study dangerous pathogens; world-class, health-related schools that include medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health, dentistry and health professions, in addition to several renowned centers and institutes; world-class engineering, computational sciences, social sciences, business, law, artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities; and the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science, which facilitates clinical and translational research via several research cores.
“We have no doubt that our new center will be nationally renowned not only as related to COVID-19 research but also other serious infection-related research and preparedness,” said Bishr Omary, senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research at RBHS.
Story originally appeared in Rutgers Today.
Life after blindness can be whole and fulfilling, yet many who’ve lost, or are losing, their sight struggle with isolation and loneliness. Recent studies show that a third of people with vision loss suffer from depression and anxiety. This risk has gone largely unaddressed in the medical community, which has focused more on the practical problems faced by the visually impaired, like finding employment and navigating everyday tasks.
But a grant from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind to Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) aims to address psychological challenges with a new program: Eye2Eye, which will begin operation later this summer. Conceived by Steven Silverstein, UBHC’s research director, Eye2Eye draws on the organization’s two decades of success with peer-to-peer telesupport programs like Cop2Cop and Vets4Warriors.
Because Eye2Eye’s intensively trained peer counselors are legally blind, they will be uniquely equipped to provide reassurance and hope. They will also offer referrals to resources for help with mental health, employment, technology, and more. The helpline, 833-932-3931 (83-EYE2EYE-1), will be staffed 24/7.
Eye2Eye is expected to serve an estimated 5,600 people in New York City and northern New Jersey over the next two years. “It’s unusual to see a program that provides supportive services to people who are blind or visually impaired reach numbers even close to that,” says Andrew Fisher, Lavelle’s executive director.
Each call that Eye2Eye receives could represent a case of depression averted or even a life saved. “It’s about people having the best life they can,” Silverstein says. “There’s nothing like it in the country.”
As a member of the New Jersey State Board of Education in the 1970s, Susie Wilson understood the valuable role that public schools played in reducing sexually transmitted diseases and high teen-pregnancy rates. And she helped board members recognize how effective sex education could prevent, rather than promote, risky sexual behavior. In 1980, her advocacy resulted in the board’s decision to require the state’s nearly 600 public school districts to provide family-life and sex education.
Wilson continued to champion better sex-ed programs in the 1980s as executive coordinator of the Rutgers-based New Jersey Network for Family Life Education, now known as Answer, which provides school districts with reliable information on sexual health. In 1994, she also founded Sex, Etc., a magazine and website written by teens to give their peers accurate information about sex and relationships.
Wilson recently pledged $1.3 million to Rutgers to support Answer’s operations and to endow NEW Leadership New Jersey, a program at the Eagleton Institute’s Center for American Women and Politics that prepares college women for careers in public leadership.
She is proud to be part of a movement committed to equipping young people with knowledge rather than perpetuating ignorance about sex. “The teen pregnancy rate is at its lowest ever in the United States,” Wilson says. “It takes a lot to make a change like that, but I think more and better comprehensive sex education has played a role.”
Spurred by a pressing need for comprehensive mental health services for New Jersey’s young people, Rutgers University alumna Marlene Brandt has committed $30 million to the university, launching an initiative leveraging Rutgers’ deep resources in the field.
The Rutgers Initiative for Youth Behavioral Health and Well-Being will provide comprehensive mental health care and support to young people—including youth in underserved and underrepresented communities—who have behavioral health disorders, and it will foster innovation, research, and learning in the field.
“The university community is deeply grateful for this extraordinary gift,” said Rutgers President Robert Barchi. “This initiative will have a profound impact on mental health care for New Jersey’s youth. Bringing together so many of Rutgers’ strengths in this way puts the university in a position of national leadership in an area that truly deserves our best efforts.”
The generous commitment by Brandt RC’80 is among the largest gifts in Rutgers’ history. It will seed the construction of a new Treatment Center and Residence, and will help spur additional philanthropy supporting the Rutgers Initiative for Youth Behavioral Health and Well-Being. The university will seek to raise an additional $20 million to fund the initiative, to be used to complete the construction of the new center and residence, and to integrate a broad range of research, teaching, clinical, and other resources, including the university’s alignment with RWJBarnabas Health. Additional funding priorities include endowed faculty chairs, student support, research, and training.
“There is an increasing awareness and acceptance of the treatment of mental health issues,” said Brandt. “Now is the optimal time to establish a facility that will harness the knowledge and skills of professionals who can address the needs of this particularly vulnerable segment of our population. I envision my partnership with Rutgers as a forefront solution to treat adolescents and young adults with behavioral health challenges.”
The initiative will have two primary components: a new Institute for Social Emotional Wellness at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology and a new Treatment Center and Residence, led by University Behavioral Health Care, which will be built on Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s George H. Cook campus. The Treatment Center and Institute will employ a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach, combining a variety of resources within the departments of psychiatry at Rutgers’ two medical schools and other Rutgers professional and graduate schools, research labs, and clinical service and care at Rutgers–New Brunswick, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, and Rutgers University–Newark.
Currently, no facility in New Jersey offers inpatient mental health treatment specifically for adolescents and young adults and backed by the resources of an academic-medical organization. New Jersey families needing such care must resort to out-of-state, sometimes distant programs, and they often find inadequate resources for continued outpatient care after their children return home. The inpatient and outpatient centers will treat young people primarily from New Jersey and the Philadelphia and New York City metropolitan areas.
“The new treatment centers will transform youth mental health care and research in New Jersey and serve as a gold standard of care nationwide for young adults,” said Brian Strom, chancellor, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. “By providing essential support for young people confronting anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders, appropriate behavioral health care can help adolescents live fully and build meaningful lives.”
“One in five adolescents has had or will have a serious mental health disorder,” said Frank Ghinassi, president and CEO, University Behavioral Health Care, “and only about a quarter of them receive treatment. The new center will be a breakthrough in providing services—some of them not readily accessible in the past—to young people in our region.”
Operated by University Behavioral Health Care and drawing on the resources of a major research university and one of the largest university hospital systems in the country, the Treatment Center and Residence will diagnose and treat young people for substance/alcohol abuse, anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and trauma.
“A continuum of care following residential treatment is critical to maintaining the progress made during a client’s stay,” said Francine Conway, dean, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology. “Rutgers is uniquely positioned to provide comprehensive, quality care for clients and their families once the residential stay is over, and will draw on its extensive resources to ensure this continuum of care.”
The Treatment Center and Residence will occupy two new buildings that provide residences and clinical treatment for up to 16 self-pay patients, as well as outpatient services. The residential component will be available for individuals who want to design, in consultation with their physician and treatment team, around-the-clock treatment and an array of supports not subject to typical insurance plan limitations. Outpatient options include the full range of diagnostic services, individual and group therapy, intensive outpatient programming, and psychiatrist-delivered medication management, and will accept the full range of private and public insurance coverages.
In addition to providing treatment, the center’s multidisciplinary team of practitioners will research best practices in mental health and developmental disorders, improving access to treatment by developing a network of community partnerships and interdisciplinary collaborations that provide services and advocacy for children and families. Research faculty and clinicians from the Institute for Social Emotional Wellness will partner with the clinical staff at the Treatment Center and Residence to care for patients, develop new treatments, and train the next generation of mental health providers in integrated academic, research, and clinical settings.
Originally posted on Rutgers Today
For Sam Adepoju, receiving a Rutgers Assistance Grant meant the difference between a dream deferred and a dream fulfilled. As a first-year student at Rutgers University-Camden, Adepoju was not sure where the money for tuition would come from. His family, who emigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 2000, had limited funds available to help Adepoju pay for college.
“I had no idea how it would work out,” Adepoju recalls. “But I got a Rutgers Assistance Grant, and that prevented a dream deferred. I wouldn’t have been able to go to school without it.” His dream? To go to medical school and become a surgeon.
Adepoju, who will graduate in 2020, is just one of about 11,000 undergraduate students universitywide who received a Rutgers Assistance Grant in the past year. Beginning in academic year 2020-21, the grants will be known as Scarlet Promise Grants and will be the focus of efforts to raise a $3 million endowment to help support the grants in perpetuity.
The renewed focus on this grant program grew out of two task forces commissioned by Rutgers’ Board of Trustees – the Task Force on Student Aid and the Task Force on Philanthropy. The student aid task force found that a growing number of students are unable to complete their degrees because of limited resources, while others can graduate but leave college saddled with significant debt.
As a result, the board is undertaking several initiatives to address these financial challenges and to seek more significant private support for need-based grants and scholarships. For instance, the trustees agreed to establish an annual Trustee Challenge in support of need-based aid, with three trustees kicking off the challenge by making gifts of $100,000 each to support a new Scarlet Promise Grants endowment. Going forward, the board and Rutgers University Foundation will work to raise $3 million for the endowment within 10 years.
The trustee gifts, announced at the board’s meeting on June 20, were made by Mary DiMartino DC’85, chair of the board until June 30, 2019, and her husband, Victor DiMartino CC’82; James Dougherty RC’74, GSNB’75, vice-chair of the board; and philanthropy task force chair Ken Johnson ENG’66 and his wife, Jackie Johnson. DiMartino, Dougherty, and Johnson join other trustees who have made leadership gifts to a variety of university causes that speak to their deep commitment to Rutgers.
As the first in their families to go to college, DiMartino and her husband understood the sacrifices others made to help them achieve their dreams. “We were thinking of ways to give back,” she says, “and that coincided with the work the Board of Trustees was doing to address student financial need. It’s humbling and exciting to know that we’ve benefited from the support and generosity of others, and now it’s our turn to give back and help others as they pursue their dreams of a college education.”
Dougherty, a longtime donor to Rutgers and member of the board’s philanthropy task force, says he decided to make his gift in support of the Scarlet Promise Grants to help more students afford a Rutgers education and to express his appreciation for his own experience at Rutgers.
“As an undergraduate, I received many forms of need-based aid and scholarships, including the Educational Opportunity Fund grant,” Dougherty says. “Not having debt from my undergraduate years enabled me to go on to veterinary school, start a practice 33 years ago, and become successful to the point where I can pay this back to other students at Rutgers who find themselves in similar situations.”
Moreover, by helping students in need of financial assistance complete their studies, Dougherty says, the university is cultivating individuals who will have a positive impact in New Jersey and around the globe.
Ken Johnson, who chaired the board’s Task Force on Philanthropy, said the findings of the student aid task force heightened his awareness of the tremendous need for more financial assistance. He added that he and his wife wanted to be among the first to make a leadership gift toward the grants as a means to inspire others to give.
“The need for student financial aid is enormous,” he said, “and we hope our support will allow more students to pursue a Rutgers education, which is far more valuable than its actual cost.”
To encourage other donors to give toward Scarlet Promise Grants, Rutgers University Foundation will designate need-based aid as a top fundraising priority.
“Providing talented students, regardless of their means, with access to higher education is a hallmark of the world’s best colleges and universities,” says Nevin E. Kessler, president, Rutgers University Foundation, and executive vice president, development and alumni engagement.
“Making higher education affordable is an issue of national importance, and aligns with the first part of Rutgers’ mission: to provide for the instructional needs of New Jersey’s citizens through its undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education programs,” he adds. “Scarlet Promise Grants open the door to higher education for bright students who might not otherwise be able to attend Rutgers.”
About 75 percent of Rutgers undergraduates receive some financial aid; about 25 percent receive Rutgers Assistance Grants, which were created in the 1990s to bridge a gap between the amount provided by the New Jersey Tuition Aid Grant and the cost of tuition. The Rutgers grants are designed to help the university’s students continue to be students, says Jean McDonald-Rash, associate vice president for enrollment services at Rutgers.
“Rutgers grants are important in a number of ways,” McDonald-Rash says. “State and federal grants may cover tuition but not other student expenses, such as room, board, and books, so Rutgers grants can help with those, as well as with tuition.” The grants are especially helpful for students who face a life-changing event, such as the loss of a parent or a job, she adds.
Originally posted on Rutgers Today, Published June 2019
It was a routine check-up for Peter Barnosky and his dentist found a few cavities. But because Barnosky is on the autism spectrum, his provider didn’t have the skills or resources to help.
Barnosky, 28, can be combative during dental procedures and often needs general anesthesia, which many dentist offices aren’t equipped to provide.
His father, John Barnosky made an appointment at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine’s Delta Dental of New Jersey Special Care Treatment Center,one of the only clinics in the region where dentists are trained to work with patients who have disabilities.
But Peter Barnosky, who lives with his parents in Trenton, had to wait months for an appointment. A severe shortage of special needs dentists, and a booming population of patients with physical disabilities and behavioral disorders, has left special needs dentists at RSDM and beyond struggling to meet the demand. Because Peter’s case wasn’t urgent, an appointment couldn’t be booked any sooner.
“There are many barriers to receiving dental care for special needs patients,’’ says Glenn Rosivack, interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics, which oversees the school’s special needs clinic. “Some are physical: a lack of ramps, doorways that aren’t wide enough for gurneys to fit through. Some are due to the fact that many dentists aren’t trained and willing to treat special needs patients.”
The delay turned Peter Barnosky’s father, John, into an advocate to expand the availability of programs to help patients like his son.
“I want to get the word out, and I’m passionate about this. This is about my kid. What breaks my heart is that there are patients in group homes who have no voice at all,’’ he declares. “We have to expose this lack of care for what it is. It’s not acceptable.’’
The dental school, the largest oral health care provider in the state, logged 7,757 special needs patient visits in 2017. But in New Jersey, more than 10 percent of the population has at least one disability, a figure that totals 911,300. Nationwide, 48 percent of patients with disabilities had no dental check-up within a year, compared to 35 percent without disabilities, according to a 2016 study published in theJournal of Public Health Dentistry.
“There is a huge need,’’ says Dean Cecile A. Feldman.
Inadequate care can have dire consequences, including infections that spread throughout the body. When patients can’t verbalize their needs, self-injury from pain they’re unable to describe is also a risk, say RSDM providers. For some, dental problems are part of their condition or disability. Patients with Down syndrome, for instance, are at high risk for periodontal disease, which can cause painful infections and early loss of teeth. Down syndrome patients also have anatomical differences, including larger tongues, smaller teeth and narrow upper jaws, which can make it more difficult for dentists to treat them.
John Barnosky is hoping the state legislature will appropriate funds for RSDM to expand its capacity since it has the only clinic in the state devoted to special care dentistry. It is also one of few dental schools nationwide that provides intensive special needs dentistry education for all students as part of the curriculum.
Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-14) agrees that New Jersey’s special needs dental patients require greater access to care and that support for the dental school would help. “The Rutgers School of Dental Medicine Special Care Treatment Center is critical for serving the needs of the developmentally disabled community in our state. We must ensure that it be prioritized and given the resources it needs to continue to work with patients that would not be able to get dental services otherwise,’’ stated Benson, who represents Barnosky’s district and is a member of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.
“These services help not only special needs patients, but ease the burden on families who support them,’’ he added.
According to Feldman, extra staffing and additional surgical resources to treat the many special care patients who need general anesthesia would greatly bolster the school’s clinical and educational mission.
“It can be a struggle to provide care without more support,’’ Feldman said. “The patients here are mostly severely disabled and that can be very challenging. They take longer to treat. It can take two or three visits just to get the patient comfortable enough to open their mouth. And if providers can’t complete the exam, we don’t get reimbursed through Medicaid, which covers a majority of our patients. The need is greater than we can accommodate.’’
Training the next generation of dentists to be better prepared to treat special care patients will help, says Chelsea Fosse, a 2017 RSDM graduate who works with special care patients. “There’s great potential to focus on dental students to help with the shortage,’’ says Fosse, who received an RSDM scholarship to pursue education in special needs dentistry and completed a residency at Helen Hayes Hospital in New York for patients with disabilities.
“If the next generation of dentists is more equipped to handle less severe special needs cases in their private practices, it will be easier for specialized centers like RSDM to handle more advanced cases,’’ Feldman said.