HOW HACKENSACK MERIDIAN HEALTH IS MAKING STRIDES TO ADVANCE PEDIATRIC MEDICINE AND IMPROVE ACCESS

BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY

To accelerate transformation in the way care is delivered across its expansive network, Hackensack Meridian Health began implementing a new organizational structure last year to better align its services and improve the overall experience for patients across its 16 hospitals and 500 patient care locations throughout New Jersey. The next major step in that integration is the continued alignment of Hackensack Meridian Health’s Children’s Care Transformation Services including its two children’s hospitals, Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center and K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, New Jersey.

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“The alignment of Hackensack Meridian Health’s children’s services allows us to share best practices and focus on clinical excellence, education, and research across the entire network,” noted Judy Aschner, M.D. (seen at left), a nationally renowned physician who was tapped in December to lead Children’s Care Transformation Services at Hackensack Meridian Health. “Of course, the power of combining our two children’s hospitals and other pediatric services will benefit our patient population and brings scale to our research and advocacy efforts. I see a lot of strength in the alignment of these entities and this integration will be extremely meaningful to families, patients, providers, and the entire healthcare system.”

A graduate of Union College in Schenectady, New York, Dr. Aschner completed her medical school training, pediatric residency, and neonatology fellowship at the University Of Rochester School Of Medicine. She previously held the position of the Julia Carell Stadler Professor of Pediatrics and Chief of the Mildred Stahlman Division of Neonatology at Vanderbilt University, and most recently served as the Michael I. Cohen Professor and University Chair of Pediatrics Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women’s Health at Albert Einstein School of Medicine. She was also Physician in Chief at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center.

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“I was drawn to this field and this subspecialty because I love the high paced, minute to minute decision making that takes place in neonatal intensive care,” Dr. Aschner said. “I was drawn to research because, while I love taking care of patients one at a time, my time in the lab allowed my work to impact babies throughout the U.S. and the world.”

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When one of her own children was born prematurely and required an extended stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Dr. Aschner felt an especially significant connection to her career.
“Based on statistics, he probably should not have survived but we were very fortunate,” Dr. Aschner said of her son, who is now a 33 year old lawyer. “And the experience of being on the other side of the isolette with my feet in the shoes of the parent changed the way I practice medicine and think about healthcare in general. It really influenced the trajectory of my career and of my life. I understand what it’s like to drive home day after day with an empty car seat, and I interact differently with families and approach medicine differently because of it.”

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Dr. Aschner has mentored the next generation of neonatologists and pediatricians, and collaborated with institutions across the United States and around the world to improve the outcomes of pregnancy and particularly the health outcomes of infants born prematurely. Her NIH funded translational research program focuses on novel therapies to prevent and treat neonatal lung diseases and understanding and mitigating the impact of environmental exposures in infancy on health outcomes for infants and children.

She is a Principal Investigator of the multi-center “Developmental Impact of NICU Exposures [DINE]” study, a longitudinal study of early life environmental exposures and health outcomes in children who were born extremely preterm. This study is part of the NIH supported Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program, a national study of nearly 50,000 children.
In addition to serving as Clinical Director of Children’s Care Transformation Services at Hackensack Meridian Health, she serves as the Marvin I. Gottlieb Chair of Pediatrics, Physician in Chief for Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, and Professor of Pediatrics at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University. In these roles, she is tasked with continuing to improve and promote children’s services.

“We are thrilled to be recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 50 children’s hospitals in the nation for cancer, neurology, and neurosurgery” Dr. Aschner said, adding that the combined cancer program at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital and K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital ranked number 44 in the U.S. and Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital ranked number 49 for Pediatric Neurology and Neurosurgery.

“I think that’s a prime example of the power of the integration process and the alignment of these two children’s hospitals,” Dr. Aschner continued. “There’s also a variety of research initiatives underway: In the hematology oncology space, the health care network is the only hospital in New Jersey with a research protocol in place to provide gene therapy for children and young adults with sickle cell disease. Tackle Kids Cancer, our philanthropic arm, supports cutting edge research for children with cancer, including development of novel therapies for children with rare brain tumors. Our faculty are also leaders in pediatric genomic medicine and offer a range of pediatric specialties like rheumatology, dermatology, adolescent medicine and developmental and behavioral pediatrics.

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“We provide a full spectrum of services for children with kidney disease and those suffering from disorders of the musculoskeletal and endocrine systems. There’s a very mature pediatric nephrology program in place at Joseph M. Sanzari Hospital; we did a renal transplant here yesterday on a four year old patient. And now, thanks in part to the recruitment of a nationally renowned pediatric nephrologist, we’re launching this longstanding program in our southern region.”

That type of recruitment is a major part of the network’s transformation.

“These programs are really defined by the people who provide care to your children,” Dr. Aschner said. “Our ability to consistently recruit outstanding nurses, doctors, and residents is what makes this network a success.”

Dr. Aschner classifies that growth as the future of Hackensack Meridian Heath’s Care Transformation Services.

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“We are on a huge growth curve, recruiting new faculty and establishing new programs,” she concluded. “And we are in midst of modeling that into a true multidisciplinary strategy of care. Most childhood diseases are complex and rare, and their treatment requires input from multiple subspecialties. Our goal is to gather those subspecialties in one room, working together to provide a unified, coordinated plan of care that the family can feel comfortable with, one that will provide the best outcome for every patient who walks through our doors. We’re making a big push to operationalize that diversified spectrum of care.”

Hackensack Meridian Health
844.464.9355 / hackensackmeridianhealth.org