The opioid crisis has evolved over the years into a national crisis. It’s vital that physicians are on the front lines of stemming our nation’s opioid epidemic. Supporting physicians in this fight is The Physicians Foundation, who awarded a grant to the New Jersey Healthcare Executive Leadership Academy (NJHELA). The grant will support collaborative leadership training and resolve top health care issues in New Jersey. With this year’s cohort focusing on the opioid epidemic, Marlene M. Kalayilparampil, MHA, Manager of Government Relations at MSNJ & Project Director of NJHELA, shares the evolution and impact of the Academy.

Physician leaders will leave the program with new insights and resources to make a lasting impact on their communities in New Jersey. By coming together to develop community-based solutions, leaders at all levels of the state’s health care system will be in a better position to stem the opioid epidemic.

Q. Why is physician leadership instrumental in implementing change within the current healthcare system?

The New Jersey Healthcare Executive Leadership Academy is a joint initiative that strengthens leadership among physicians and executives from hospitals, post-acute providers and health plans. Our goal is to ensure the entire health care system is well-positioned to collaboratively improve health outcomes for the residents of New Jersey. The program was developed by the Medical Society of New Jersey (MSNJ), the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA) and the New Jersey Association of Health Plans (NJAHP). Over the past two years, our program has mentored sixty-five fellows, from physicians to chief medical officers.

Our program invests in the individual development of those leading our health care system in New Jersey. Each cohort builds leadership skills by focusing on a substantial health care problem facing our state. This year, we are focusing on the opioid epidemic.

Q. Why is this program critical to reducing the opioid epidemic?

Across the U.S., too many people are dying from drug overdoses. Yet, less than 10% of Americans with a substance use disorder can seek treatment due to barriers such as stigma, and a lack of educational and financial resources. New Jersey has higher rates of drug-related overdose deaths compared to the national average. The situation is dire with 3,118 people dying from drug overdoses involving opioids in 2018 alone.

Most individuals with substance use disorders interact with all levels of the health care system. From physicians to behavioral health specialists, it’s critical all stakeholders can work collaboratively to address the problem and support each patient. To reverse the state’s trend, we are bringing a multitude of perspectives to the table. This year’s group of leaders includes multiple disciplines, from behavioral health and substance abuse specialists to physician leaders who are trying to tackle the issue from a clinical perspective.

Q. How is the program currently meeting this goal?

The group of professionals we are working with are young and passionate to lead change, and there is no doubt these are the stars of tomorrow. Currently, the cohort is analyzing hospital and community treatment transition systems, and policy development of education programs to inform how they can effectively:

  • Break down stigma around opiates and substance abuse to improve policy development and access to treatment
  • Identify conflicts in payment policies, medical practice or hospital workflows that inhibit reduced opioid prescribing
  • Develop clinical guidelines and protocols that can be scaled and used by physicians, hospitals and health plans to effectively and holistically treat a patient
  • Provide treatment in collaboration with community-based first responders

Along with research, teams are working with physicians, hospital and health plan executives to develop a state-wide education campaign that will provide trainings for health care professionals. The trainings will incorporate CME/CEU courses to address stigma among professionals. The goal is to combat stigma and discrimination by sharing real stories of individuals and health care workers who have been impacted by the epidemic.

Q. How are you envisioning the future of the Academy’s programs?

As we head into our second year and the implementation phase, we’re excited to use findings from our research to better support those impacted by the opioid epidemic. Most recently, we worked with St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center to implement policies that include alternative options such as non-opioid medications and trigger point injections to treat pain. It’s been amazing to see that our program has supported development of policies that will lead to better treatment for patients, and hopefully a brighter future for all Americans.

As we near implementation, we look forward to bringing all levels of New Jersey’s health care system together to end this epidemic in our state, and across the country.


For more information, please visit our website, www.njhela.com or contact:

Lawrence Downs, Esq.
Executive Director, NJHELA & IOMPHNJ
CEO, MSNJ
ldowns@msnj.org

Marlene M. Kalayilparampil, MHA
Project Director, NJHELA & IOMPHNJ
Manager, Government Relations, MSNJ
mkalayil@msnj.org
(609) 896-1766, ext. 258