Jay Weiss Center and Sylvester Merge to Tackle Health Disparities

In a match “truly made in heaven,” the Jay Weiss Center for Social Medicine and Health Equity is now affiliated with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, a merger celebrated January 31 at an informal ceremony attended by family members and admirers of two humanitarian giants who championed quality health care for the underserved.

Introducing the new Jay Weiss Institute for Health Equity at Sylvester, Miller School Dean Emeritus Bernard Fogel, M.D., said he was certain Jay Weiss, who worked tirelessly to ensure rich and poor had equal standards of care, and Harcourt Sylvester, who founded the cancer center to bring quality cancer care to all, were smiling from above. They would be delighted, he said, that Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the Jay Weiss Center, and Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., were united in forging community partnerships and conducting research to build a model for eliminating health inequities.

“I never met an individual who cared more about taking care of everyone,” Fogel said of Weiss, on the ninth anniversary of his death. “He fought his entire life for us to do the right thing … so marrying the Jay Weiss Center under Erin Kobetz’s leadership with the Sylvester Cancer Center under Steve Nimer’s leadership … is truly a match made in heaven. I suspect there are two gentlemen up there today smiling down and saying, ‘They are doing the right thing.’’’

Neither Nimer, who assumed the helm of the cancer center nine months ago, nor Kobetz, associate professor of epidemiology and public health, had the privilege of meeting Weiss or Sylvester, but both said they were inspired by their legacies.

“From the minute I got here, I’ve been saying we need to be out in the community as much as possible and we need to educate the community, and not only patients with cancer, but patients who are at risk for cancer,” Nimer said. “The vision of incorporating the Jay Weiss Center into the cancer center is to make sure that we are aware, in terms of the basic science research, that we’re thinking about the impact of our work on the community, and that we are attentive to the needs of the community.”

For Kobetz, who assumed leadership of Sylvester’s Disparities and Community Outreach Core shortly after joining the University in 2004, the marriage was a natural. As she notes, the mission of the outreach core and the Jay Weiss Center are closely aligned. Jay Weiss’ daughters established the Jay Weiss Center after their father’s death to nurture physicians dedicated to serving the poor and to promote the field of social medicine. The core helps researchers identify communities at increased risk of adverse cancer outcomes.

“The Jay Weiss Center really needed a home and it made sense for Sylvester to be that home for many reasons. One reason is that Jay Weiss was the first chair of the board of governors for Sylvester and, though his commitment to health equity was not cancer-specific, he and Harcourt Sylvester really advocated on behalf of people without a voice,” said Kobetz, who is also co-director of the Community Engagement component of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). “Bringing them together also expands the breadth and reach of both programs and makes them uniquely situated to contribute to the etiology of health disparities. We now have the opportunity to build a model that informs how researchers across this campus and the world think about healthcare delivery for all people.”

Recalling that her father liked to say, “The good guys always win,” Laurie Weiss Nuell said she and sister Jennie Weiss Block could not be happier that the center is now under the Sylvester umbrella. The Jay Weiss Center has “been in a lot of different places, and we’ve had our share of ups and downs, but…when you have the mission, and the people behind it, of making a better world for people who have no choice and no option, it always will prevail,” she said.

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