‘Beacon of hope’: New Rutgers community health center opens in Newark

Catherine Carrera, NorthJersey.com Published 5:45 a.m. ET Dec. 17, 2019

Victoria Cason once lived below the poverty line in one of Newark’s public housing complexes and experienced firsthand the barriers to preventive health care that the city’s low-income citizens face every day.

But after the Rutgers Community Health Center opened in 2011, it not only gave her access to health care services, it provided training for her to become one of its first community health workers.

Eight years later, Cason leads a team of advocates as the center expands its services at a newly renovated location that opened on Monday.

“Our population is now served, heard, and have improved their health care disparities. We are our community’s beacon of hope providing access, quality and affordability of primary care and psychological and social services,” Cason said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

State and local elected officials, community members and health care workers gathered at the New Community Corporation health services building on South Orange Avenue to tour the new site.

Rutgers School of Nursing operates the nurse-managed, federally qualified health center, which started out in a mobile van with three patient “rooms” that would visit housing projects in the city. One of the projects it used to visit was the Hyatt Court complex, where Cason lived.

First Lady Tammy Murphy joined by local leaders and community advocates celebrates the opening of the Rutgers Community Health Center on Dec. 16, 2019. (Photo: Catherine Carrera)

“There I was, unemployed, poor, with low health literacy and living in a food desert,” Cason said. “No one checked to see if I was OK, or any of my neighbors. We didn’t have a voice until Rutgers Community Health Center arrived in a big blue mobile van.”

The new 3,500-square-foot space includes six exam rooms and two consultation rooms and employs seven nurse practitioners and a physician, pharmacist, nutritionist and psych rehabilitation counselor, as well as several social workers and medical assistants.

The center has had an FQHC designation since 2015; that allows it to serve patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.

“Rutgers Community Health Center is one of the first nurse-managed federally qualified health centers in the nation and provides adult, pediatric and women’s health services to some of our most vulnerable individuals living in the greater Newark area,” first lady Tammy Murphy said at the ceremony.

Patients get health and wellness care, as well as guidance on housing and food insecurity, said Susan VonNessen-Scanlin, the CEO of the center and associate dean for clinical affairs at Rutgers School of Nursing.

“Ninety percent of our patients are at or below the poverty level,” VonNessen-Scanlin said. “For many, their health care experience has been less than equitable. We treat the whole person — physical, spiritual and behavioral — in one setting.”

Rutgers health professionals trained Cason and others to become patient advocates or community health workers so they can assist residents with navigating the health care system and promote health literacy.

“To our communities, primary care was the emergency room, with free transportation via ambulance — free for us as a population but a burden to the health care system and to the state,” Cason said. With the center, “unnecessary emergency room visits lessened, health literacy improved, resources were provided, chronic conditions became understood and controlled, immunization rates climbed, and the ripple effect of change grew throughout our communities.”

The new space also marks a partnership with New Community Corporation, a nonprofit community development organization based in Newark. The corporation runs dozens of other programs that serve vulnerable residents in the city, including Harmony House, an apartment housing facility for the homeless.

“Together we ease the minds, soothe the hearts and cherish the souls of every person we encounter,” Cason said. “We make a difference in people’s lives.”

This article was originally published on North Jersey.com at https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/2019/12/17/rutgers-community-health-center-newark-nj-beacon-hope/2638226001/.

‘Beacon of hope’: New Rutgers community health center opens in Newark