A New Rutgers University–Camden Center Provides Free Health Screenings for Camden Residents

Doctor of Nursing Practice student Melody McCullen cuts the ribbon at the health center grand opening ceremony.

Doctor of Nursing Practice student Melody McCullen cuts the ribbon at the health center grand opening ceremony.

By Jeanne Leong

With the opening of a new Rutgers University–Camden health center at The Branches at Centerville, residents can now access free health care services and screenings without having to leave their Camden apartment complex.

The new center allows Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden faculty and students to provide physical exams, offer hearing and blood pressure screenings, and conduct classes on first aid, nutrition, and managing chronic health problems such as diabetes.

Since the Rutgers–Camden health center opened its doors in the late summer, it has helped more than 90 children receive their physical exams required to participate in sports. To date, Rutgers–Camden nursing students and faculty have delivered 450 hours of service in support of the health of the Branches community.

“We have picked up four cardiac murmurs in children, and one seizure that wasn’t documented,” said Kathie Prihoda, a Rutgers School of Nursing‒Camden clinical assistant professor. “We’re making an impact for Camden’s families.”

Dean Donna Nickitas gives Mayor Frank Moran and Congressman Donald Norcross a tour of the health center

Dean Donna Nickitas gives a tour of the health center to Mayor Moran and Congressman Norcross.

Some residents of the Housing Authority of the City of Camden complex are unable to access health care due to transportation challenges. Having the center located in the housing complex makes seeing a medical professional more convenient and quicker than trying to schedule an appointment at a doctor’s office.

At the grand opening on Monday, Nov. 25, U.S. Congressman Donald Norcross, Camden Mayor Frank Moran, and Camden County Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez joined Rutgers University–Camden Chancellor Phoebe A. Haddon, Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden Dean Donna Nickitas, and Rutgers students for a ceremonial ribbon cutting.

“Managing health care is not just when you’re sick,” said Norcross. “Affordable, quality, accessible health care is what every American deserves and needs to have.”

In presenting a proclamation to Nickitas to thank the Rutgers School of Nursing‒Camden for the new community partnership, Camden Mayor Frank Moran said, “This is literally inclusive prosperity. The true success of the city isn’t until we reach every community, and this is proof positive that we are doing that.”

Carmen Rodriguez, Camden County Freeholder

Carmen Rodriguez, Camden County Freeholder

“Our residents are deserving of health care that is second to none,” said Rodriguez, who also serves as director of human services for the city of Camden. “This center offers the reassurances that you can access the resources that you need to be healthy.”

The Rutgers–Camden center’s all-encompassing approach treats residents’ minds as well as their bodies. To help ease stress, nursing faculty conduct mindfulness sessions with the residents.

The health center offers an educational opportunity for Rutgers–Camden nursing students to assist residents in the Camden community, provide culturally sensitive care, and become prepared to care for diverse patients when they are professional nurses.

“We are of Camden and for Camden,” said Nickitas. “The Rutgers–Camden nursing school is building a culture of good health by bringing our students into residences like this one to provide health care where people live, work, and play.”

Students and faculty have provided 450 hours of service in support of the health of the Branches community since opening in the late summer.

Students and faculty have provided 450 hours of service in support of the health of the Branches community since opening in the late summer.

“We heard so many stories about difficult home lives these kids have, and we learned that organized sports are such a tremendous emotional and physical outlet for them,” said Melody McCullen, a doctor of nursing practice student who is expected to graduate in 2021. “A lot of them would not have been able to participate in these sports if we weren’t able to provide that service for them. I learned how fulfilling it is to help provide a service that helps our neighbors.”

“Some students enter nursing school saying they want to work in a high-paced, high-tech hospital environment, but when they see how much needs to be done in the community, this is an option they might want to consider,” said Marie O’Toole, senior associate dean of the Rutgers School of Nursing‒Camden.

The Housing Authority of the City of Camden complex, formerly known as Branch Village, was built in 1941 and named for Dr. Clement T. Branch, a prominent physician and the first African American to serve on Camden’s school board.

The complex houses nearly 100 residents now, and is in the process of expanding. Work is underway to build 75 one-, two-, and three-bedroom townhouse-style apartments. The Michaels Organization, the company that is constructing the new homes, is partnering with Rutgers–Camden to offer the health services by donating the space for the health center.

Nicholas Cangelosi, vice president of The Michaels Organization, praised the Rutgers–Camden nursing students for their work at the health center: “Nursing is not an easy profession and working tirelessly to help people, you’re great people. Anything you need from us to support you in your journey, our door is always open.”

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