NEWARK, NJ — New Jersey First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy joined state and local leaders on Monday to mark the beginning of an era for Rutgers Community Health Center, which cut the ribbon on its new, more accessible location on the New Community Corporation campus in Newark’s Central Ward. 

The grand opening also recognizes a new partnership between the NCC and RCHC, one of the nation’s only nurse-managed, federally qualified health centers (FQHC). The full-service clinic is a vital resource for Newark’s low-income residents, who can receive community-based, comprehensive integrated primary care, preventative services, women’s health services and more regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status. 

“Recognizing that there is inequity in access to health care is the first step to correcting the crisis. Rutgers Community Health Center has proven they are committed to correcting this issue and to treating their patients with the dignity every person deserves,” Murphy said. Her support for RCHC is part of her work to address New Jersey’s racial disparities in infant and maternal health outcomes through the Nurture NJ initiative.

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Designated FQHCs must meet strict federal guidelines for quality of care and business practices to maintain their operating status and are governed by a board of community members. Nationwide, more than 30 million people rely on FQHCs as their primary care providers, making nurse practitioners in high demand.  

Rutgers School of Nursing, which oversees RCHC, graduates about 140 advanced practice nurses per year to meet the needs of communities in New Jersey and beyond. 

For more than a decade, community health worker supervisor Victoria Cason exemplified the urban health care disparities RCHC works to alleviate. With no job, access to a grocery store or education on staying healthy, Cason divulged how unheard and powerless she felt as part of a demographic that relies on emergency room visits for primary care.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged are at higher risk for conditions like asthma, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Lack of affordable health care or holistic health management options compound these risks, decreasing overall life expectancy for underserved populations. 

“No one checked to see if I was ok, or any of my neighbors. We didn’t have a voice until what would become known as the Rutgers Community Health Center arrived in a big blue mobile van,” Cason recalled. “They came in like the sun, breaking up the storm of our health care disparities.”

Ninety percent of RCHC’s patient base lives at or below the federal poverty level, according to Susan VonNessen Scanlin, the center’s CEO and associate dean of clinical affairs at Rutgers School of Nursing. As the medical industry works to better serve low-income communities, access to wellness and preventative services plays an increasingly important role in reducing disparities. Scanlin added that RCHC strives to empower patients by treating the “whole person.”

An updated RCHC offers integrated primary and behavioral health care model that allows providers to partner with patients to manage their health and wellness outside the practice, addressing challenges like housing and food insecurity. In addition to advanced practice nurses, the center is staffed by a physician, a pharmacist, social workers, medical assistants, a nutritionist and a psychiatric rehabilitation counselor. 

“The municipal council has been doing a lot of work to promote healthy residents and get them the resources they need, to have preventative health care and to also get them to the doctor before they have problems,” said LaMonica McIver, Newark’s Central Ward council member. “To have this center open, it’s another place for our residents to go and get the services they need.”