NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The COVID-19 pandemic has not altered plans to construct the first free-standing cancer hospital in the state, the director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey said.

Dr. Steven Libutti has told TAPinto New Brunswick that the $750 million Cancer Pavilion that will tower 12 stories into the New Brunswick skyline is on schedule despite the spread of the coronavirus.

In fact, the health care crisis “has in some ways shined a light on the importance” of constructing the 510,000 square foot cancer treatment and research hospital, Libutti said.

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“I think the pandemic has demonstrated to us the importance of facilities such as this one that is focused on a vulnerable, at-risk patient population, in this case, cancer patients,” he said. “And the key need to improve the coordination of cancer care to have an epicenter or focal point for where the most complex cancer care takes place and essentially the additional resources that this new pavilion will bring to bear for the care of cancer patients and the treatment of cancer patients and the advancement of new discoveries for new cancer treatments is urgently needed in our state.

The plans to build the Cancer Pavilion were unveiled last June at a news conference outlining the partnership between RWJ/Barnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the city of New Brunswick and DEVCO, the city’s private development firm.

The location of the pavilion was not disclosed at that time, but as the plan has evolved, the site of the Lincoln Annex school has been identified as the ideal site. The school, just yards from the doors of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, will be razed and the pavilion will be built on the site.

More details about the pavilion were disclosed in February at a news conference at DEVCO offices attended by Libutti, New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill and DEVCO President Chris Paladino.

The pavilion will include 84 infusion bays and 74 exam rooms for outpatient care and 96 beds and a dedicated floor for surgical and procedure rooms for inpatient care.

Libutti said at that meeting that New Jersey has the fifth highest incidence of cancer in the nation, with 50,000 new diagnoses annually. He estimates that the pavilion would attract patients that currently leave the state for treatment, resulting in up to 20,000 more patient visits a year.

He said the pavilion would be home to several teams of researchers, attracting the “best and the brightest” scientific minds.

Paladino said that not only will the pavilion save lives, but it will boost the local economy. He estimated that the construction of the pavilion would create 1,000 construction jobs. Once opened, 500 to 600 people would be employed – many of them will come from nearby schools such as Rutgers and Middlesex County College.

At a virtual news conference May 6 to announce Middlesex County’s $25 million investment into the project, RWJBarnabas Health President and CEO Barry Ostrowsky touched on the importance of continuing with plans for the pavilion in the grips of a pandemic.

“It is a project like this that shows the commitment that we have and the county and the city and the college and of course the university, to those folks who treat patients by giving them the state of art facility and program necessary to care for all those in our communities,” he said.

A few days later, the county’s seven-member Board of Freeholders voted unanimously to approve a $25 million grant to help fund the construction of the pavilion.

Libutti said that planners have been able to collaborate on the development of the project using teleconferencing technology.

As for whether the COVID-19 pandemic could influence the design of the pavilion, Libutti said preliminary plans had already addressed issues such as providing urgent care to cancer patients during emergency room surges.

“The cancer pavilion will in fact have its own urgent care facility for cancer patients where patients that are under active cancer treatment or develop morbidity or complication of their cancer disease itself will have an alternative place to be seen acutely by cancer specialists outside of the emergency rooms setting,” he said. “So that's something that was built into the design, even from the very beginning.”

Construction on the pavilion is scheduled to begin in late September or early October and should take about four years. A $55 million replacement school will be built at 50 Jersey Ave.