EAST ORANGE/ORANGE, NJ - Imagine you are in a hospital room all alone. You have been very ill and searching for answers. While you are waiting for test results from the doctor, your mind races. The doctor enters and tells you the prognosis. She is kind in her delivery, but the news is not good. You focus on that lump in your throat that only forms when you fight to hold back tears. You think, “how can this be? Am I going to die?” The doctor leaves, and in walks a man. His calming voice sounds familiar, although you are hearing it for the first time.  “My name is Reverend Arnold Fox, a Chaplin and patient advocate here to make sure you are doing alright. Can I have a moment of your time?”  The tears fall.

Reverend Arnold Fox is a man who has dedicated his career to helping people. Ordained a pastor in 1985, people who feel forgotten know they are not once they meet him. He is a proven, trusted advocate, not just to the patients but to the entire City of East Orange.

Reverend Fox has been branded by the community as the go-to person when you need help for a loved one in the hospital. In a sea of stories shared by family members trying to navigate East Orange General Hospital, the most common phrase used is, “I called Reverend Fox, and he helped us.” These words are often followed by someone else who says something like, “Yeah, Reverend Fox was there for my mother and me when she was sick too.”

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Like many local hospitals, over the years, and different owners, East Orange General Hospital has had its share of near closure experiences. As for Reverend Fox, he has seen it all. Through times of uncertainty, he has been a trusted voice advising government officials on how to help. The Reverend’s advocacy has played a vital role in a collective mission to save the hospital time and time again. This is no small accomplishment: Keeping East Orange General open saves healthcare access, the Central Avenue business district, and the second-largest employer in East Orange.

(Reverend Fox ceremonially pushing the button for Timberlake in the affirmative to save East Orange General Hospital during the NJ State General Assembly voting session.)

In addition to all of this, Reverend Fox has a myriad of talents and skills. He organizes retreats for people in need of respite, and days for doctors to go directly to seniors who have a hard time traveling (pre-COVID, of course). A great orator and writer, it is not uncommon for Reverend Fox to pass you a poem of encouragement written just for you. 

It is an honor to interview Reverend Arnold Fox and name him as a Hero Who Walks Beside Us:

TIMBERLAKE: In your own words, who is Reverend Arnold Fox?

FOX: Arnold Fox is a most thankful and grateful individual who has been blessed and favored to do work that is not about himself but those around him. I am privileged and have experienced challenges and tribulations, but by God's grace, I have come through the fire, not necessarily unscathed, but have come out because God kept me. God has been so kind to me that He has allowed me to show up in places where He can demonstrate who He is. God shows up at a time of need, and he does all the work. I am just a vessel. I am not doing anything; God does it all. I cannot think of a greater privilege a person can have than to extend kindness to those around them, the underserved, and the forgotten.

I had come to a place in my life where I did not have an advocate. I have seen people having to do it all by themselves. I strive not to make a person feel like they are by themselves or that nobody cares for them. They have a feeling of hurt that is there, and no one can sense the depth of their despair. When I show up, I am just an ear to listen and a hand to hold, just to let them know I understand and I am here with them. That is the calling I have. It is a wonderful calling because you meet people at the depths, they are on the bottom rung of the ladder, and they do not know what steps to take to go upward. They don't hear a single voice that says, "it's okay." God is so gracious; he pulls them out. No person should come to that part of life where they feel they have no hope. God speaks to individuals in ways we do not understand or know. He sends people in the tangible. I take it as a privileged and honor in terms of talents that people measure individuals by; mine is not encroaching on greatness; infact, it is mediocre; I am just privileged by God to help people.

 

TIMBERLAKE: How did you know God called you? Why did you choose the healthcare career path you did? 

FOX: God reached down and touched my life in such a way I was able to be lifted and go forward. When I think about the turning point in my life, I spent one entire year in the hospital as a patient. In that one year, I cannot recall that I was holding on to any hope or expectation that I would see another day. I spent my days confined to a bed restricted from movement. Those I thought I could count on and seek encouragement from grew weary and tired, and I did not see them. God showed up and touched my life toward the end of the year. I was being molded and shaped for a work God was going to do through me in healthcare. Now I find myself having worked 30 something years in the hospital and healthcare field.

It is essential to know in health care that I have advocated for family involvement, a dynamic that God has blessed me to change over the years. The equation should not just be patient and doctor; it should be patient, doctor, and family. Families have to be an integral part of the decision-making. People say, "my doctor says." The patient goes home and says what the doctor said, and the family has no idea of what is involved in the diagnosis and prognosis. The family is a central part, and that is something I always advocate. When I am involved, there is a patient family support meeting. With consent, I have a form that says, "How much do you know about your loved one's health care?" In turn, the family can bring things about the family member under care that we would not know from just reading a chart. Somethings we can incorporate in the plan of care.

 

TIMBERLAKE: When did you begin ministry? 

FOX: Thirty years ago, I got my pastoral ordination in 1985 at a church in Montclair that was segregated when I was a child. I went to grade school in Montclair; as a child, I used to sit outside the church and wonder how it looked inside. The way God had it, as an adult, when I went before the council to see if I was going to be ordained, it was held in that same church I had never been in as a child. First Baptist Church in Montclair was its name. It was located where Christ Church is now. I later went on to pastor at First Baptist Chapel in East Orange on Munn and North Main Street until 1995. I have been an Overseer at Upper Room and other ministries such as Christ Resurrection Church.  

 

TIMBERLAKE: When I look at you, I feel like your ministry is broader than the four walls of a church. What else have you done in life to help people?

FOX: Well, Yes, I went into sales and worked for Dale Carnegie and did motivational training throughout the area and traveled all over with that. I worked for a marketing and sales company called and was lead marketing and sales for 15 years. After that, I went to work for Career Works, Inc., a vocational training and job placement program. In that capacity, we did vocational training in building maintenance, certified nurse aides, senior rehab, home health aides, hotel industry service training… We received grants from Mayor Sharpe James and worked with Newark's Department of Training and Employment. That was rewarding because I became Vice President and was able to train and open up training institutions in Chicago, Detroit, Newark, and one in St. Louis. As Regional VP, I got to travel and do the workshops in those cities. In that capacity, I had the opportunity to teach life skills, in addition to career training. Because one of the training pieces was building, when they were constructing NJPAC, we got our students to work under Turner Construction in the building of NJPAC. We submitted [successful] proposals to train students from 990 Broad Street and 50 S. Clinton, and we did that too for eight years. That is where I met Sheila Oliver and Joe DiVincenzo.

In terms of health care, I do many consults for palliative care which is pain and symptom management. In healthcare, that is what I am very proud of. When patients get discharged, I work with the nursing homes they are released to see how they progress.

 

TIMBERLAKE: To know you is to know East Orange General Hospital. What is it about East Orange General Hospital that is of such importance to you?

FOX: It is in an area that I know, have been in, and have pastored. If I walk the neighborhood, I will see someone I know. It is home. East Orange General is also in a community where nursing homes and senior buildings surround the location. It is right in the hub of healthcare needs. Transportation-wise, it is accessible for seniors to have more significant opportunities to the great demand for healthcare. They are right there and can use the facility.

 

TIMBERLAKEWhat is a hero to you?

FOX: Heroes are sometimes defined as mighty acts and manifested works, but there are heroes in mothers and fathers. Every family, I believe, has a hero. They have no plaques. They do not receive credentials. Yet, they are heroes. Suppose you can instill in an individual to look inside themselves to reach and pull out what God has put inside them. And you cause or play any role in that; then you become a hero. We have all had a hero somewhere. The greatest heroes in history are not always book-learned. The heroes we know of the past could not read or write, but they could understand a person's heart. That is a hero.

 

TIMBERLAKE: What do you want to be remembered for?

FOX: That I care, and I try to do my very best, and when I feel like I am not, I am willing to try harder.

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Britnee N. Timberlake is a stakeholder of TAPinto by way of the East Orange/Orange site. Her main function is to feature stories and interviews of people, organizations, companies, etc. within East Orange/Orange who make a difference in the community. To remove conflict of interest, Timberlake is not involved in articles written about political campaigns or deciding if any story is published highlighting her work as a NJ State Assemblywoman.

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