Walk through Pennington Court, a public housing complex in Newark’s East Ward, with Cindy Sickora, the Program Director for the New Jersey Children’s Health Project, and you will see immediately the challenges that families face in this community. Pennington Court’s average annual household income barely tops $11,000, and drugs are so common in the surrounding areas that one long-term resident likened the omnipresent drug dealers to cockroaches. “Both are hard to get rid of,” she said.
GOOD HEALTH MOMENTUM
But with a doctorate in nursing practice and a lot of optimism, Dr. Sickora believes that positive change is possible and underway. When Dr. Sickora and the Children’s Health Fund’s mobile medical clinic arrive on a Monday morning at Pennington Court, one of 8 sites on the mobile program’s weekly schedule, families are already gathering for their appointments. It seems like everyone is talking about health – good health.
“Salad is my secret weapon,” announces a ten-year-old, with a family history of diabetes. She has lost five pounds this month, putting her closer to a healthy weight. At the front of the clinic, the Project’s registrar is engaged in a different conversation. A grandmother of five asthmatic boys boasts that she spent the weekend turning her apartment into an “asthma-friendly zone.”
This level of enthusiasm wasn’t always evident. Like today’s young patient, Dr. Sickora also has a secret weapon: a team of community outreach workers who have visited every apartment in Pennington Court and two other public housing complexes to reach 1,000 families. The community health workers are an important link to the mobile program.
DOOR TO DOOR EDUCATION
Going door-to-door, the health workers, local residents themselves, help educate families about the mobile clinic, schedule appointments, conduct health screenings, and offer support to neighbors trying to lose weight, lower their blood pressure, get more exercise and follow the other medical recommendations.
In addition to public housing complexes, the mobile clinic visits schools and early education programs. A large focus of the New Jersey Children’s Health Project is making certain that local kids have annual medical exams, can manage chronic conditions, are up-to-date on their immunizations and registered in the state immunization registry. The state has recognized this outstanding program, and now provides vaccines for the kids the mobile clinic serves.