CAMDEN, NJ — Having roughly a year to establish a series of health services for the residents of two housing complexes proved to be the right kind of serendipity the Rutgers-Camden Nursing School needed with the oncoming storm of COVID-19.  

First establishing a presence at Branches of Centerville and ultimately Ablett Village, the nursing school — with the help of undergraduates and community partners— provided mindfulness training, health and disease prevention promotion and on-site health services. 

“We did over 145 physicals by the time we got to late December,” Dean of the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, Donna Nickitas, told TAPinto Camden. 

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The need for the free health services was evident, Nickitas said with the school getting calls from various school teams and parents. 

“As we entered the pandemic in early March and April, we recognized that through changes at the government level, barriers were removed allowing for nurse practitioners to provide primary care without having to be supervised by a physician,” said Nickitas, noting that the Camden Coalition and Camden Housing Authority have helped the nursing school expand itself beyond the campus.

The school was still forced to temporarily shutter its health centers at Branches and Ablett Village, the latter of which functioned in a community center. 

But on April 30, with the help of Clinical Assistant Professor Kathleen Jackson, the Rutgers-Camden School of Nursing Community Health Clinics officially launched — providing telehealth services to those in need.

Residents are able to adhere to social-distancing while consulting a nurse practitioner for any matter — not just COVID-19. 

“We have Spanish interpreters on staff as well,” said Nickitas. “The idea being that [patients] do not leave their homes unless it is an emergency situation.”

Nickitas said she joins in concerns felt countywide regarding residents not consulting medical help over fears of contracting the coronavirus — hoping their program helps residents from becoming sicker while sheltering in place. 

“There is a direct residential benefit to hosting our Eds and Meds corridor which will pay dividends to the Camden community,” Mayor Frank Moran and Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli said in a joint statement. “These institutions will be home to many of the solutions to this virus, and we want to thank them for stepping up to the plate.”

The nursing school said it is also in the process of procuring COVID-19 saliva tests - developed by Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) — to administer screenings for as many as 100 residents at Branches and Ablett Village.

“We are currently working on a roster,” said Nickitas, who hoped the tests will be available by the end of May. “[Residents] wouldn’t need to have a physician’s note, be symptomatic or have health insurance.”

Nickitas said their program has long taken notes on approaching telehealth from its colleagues in North Jersey - saying it is largely being considered a rubric for the future of patient-doctor communications.

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