TRENTON — Rutgers University’s new health care network has hired Mary E. O’Dowd, the state’s former health commissioner, to oversee its programs that promote healthy living for people across the state.
A member of Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet from 2011 to 2015, O’Dowd has been named executive director for health systems and population health integration for Rutgers Health, the university announced Tuesday.
In April, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi announced the launch of Rutgers Health, a network of medical providers drawing from the university’s medical, dental, nursing, pharmacy, mental health and social work programs and schools, as well as the Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
There are 1,000 faculty members and clinical staff.
Population health describes efforts to manage chronic disease and promote healthy lifestyles. Population health has taken on greater importance since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, with its emphasis on disease prevention and outpatient treatment.
The law is ushering in a payment system that rewards hospitals and other medical providers based on keeping people healthy rather than just curing disease.
Brian Strom, executive vice president for health affairs and chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, said O’Dowd’s experience as commissioner makes her uniquely qualified for the job.
While commissioner of the 1,200-member department, she focused on improving breastfeeding rates, expanding the hospital-based screening program for newborn illnesses, and implementing a law that aids end-of-life planning, according to the announcement.
She will work closely with Vicente H. Gracias, senior vice chancellor for clinical affairs for Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, according to the announcement.
“Under Mary’s leadership, the Department of Health achieved significant inroads addressing a variety of population health issues,” Strom said. “Her firsthand experiences will be extremely valuable as we build an infrastructure and set our strategic and logistical priorities.”
O’Dowd has also been a paid member of the board of directors of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the largest health insurance provider in the state, since August 2015.
“My experiences allow me to relate well to Rutgers’ desire to make population health a priority, improve the patient experience, and develop a viable business case for prevention and wellness,” said O’Dowd, a Rutgers University’s Douglass College alumna.
O’Dowd serves as alumna representative on the university’s Institute for Women’s Leadership Advisory Board. She has also been an internship sponsor for the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Douglass College and the Institute for Women’s Leadership.
O’Dowd’s husband, Kevin O’Dowd, was one of Christie’s closest advisers, last serving as chief of staff. He left in 2014 and is an executive vice president for Cooper University Health Care in Camden.