Improving Health, Changing Lives

Kathleen Jackson, A nurse practitioner and clinical assistant professor in the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden

Kathleen Jackson, nurse practitioner and clinical assistant professor, Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden. She is pictured above with a patient in the faculty practice clinic.

How a Faculty Member’s Research and Alumni Are Working with Camden Communities

By Sam Starnes

The first thing Kathleen Jackson did was listen.

A nurse practitioner and clinical assistant professor in the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, Jackson received a Take Care Health Promotion grant from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, an organization that had previously honored her with its state excellence award. The small grant sponsored focus groups in Camden neighborhoods in 2015 to research the health-care concerns of residents.

“That was really helpful in finding out from people what the issues were,” Jackson said.

The discussions revealed multiple health issues related to social conditions, such as poverty and a lack of jobs with a living wage. Jackson’s research, when coupled with collaboration with other Rutgers–Camden faculty and students and community organizations, made it clear there were two issues to work on straightaway: Camden families wanted better access to fresh produce for healthier diets, and many did not have access to consistent, quality health care.

From Farmers to Camden Tables

Jackson, who with Rutgers–Camden nursing professor Janice Beitz is co-authoring a scholarly paper based on the data gathered in the study titled “Understanding Stories of Health and Healthcare in a Vulnerable Urban Population,” wasted no time in taking action based on the research gleaned from the community. In 2015, she formed a partnership with Farmers Against Hunger that began delivering surplus produce into two housing communities in the city.

Brian Strumfels CCAS’06, produce coordinator for Farmers Against Hunger, makes weekly deliveries to the Camden communities during growing season from mid-June through the fall.

The popularity of the deliveries to the housing communities has grown each year. Strumfels said each community receives about 500 pounds of seasonal fruit and vegetables weekly, including watermelons, corn, tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers. “I enjoy pulling up and seeing the people waiting,” said Strumfels, a fine arts graduate from Hainesport who now lives in Bordentown, New Jersey. “I get a cheerful greeting every time I go there.”

Kathleen Jackson

From left, Project H.O.P.E. CEO Patricia DeShields SNC’99, SSW’00; Kathleen Jackson, clinical assistant professor of nursing; and Cathedral Kitchen Executive Director Karen Talarico, Cathedral Kitchen, site of faculty practice clinic.

Health Care for Those Without

Addressing the health-care issue took longer, but Jackson developed a program for that concern as well. Residents told Jackson they had difficulty finding readily accessible health care. “We wanted to try to figure out a way that there could be continuity of care, not just a small bandage,” Jackson said.

Enter Project H.O.P.E., a Camden-based federally qualified health center serving the homeless headed by Rutgers–Camden alumna Patricia DeShields SNC’99, SSW’00, and Cathedral Kitchen, a mission that “uses food to change lives.” Project H.O.P.E. provides primary health and behavioral health-care services for the homeless. It served almost 4,000 patients in 2016 alone. Cathedral Kitchen prepares about 2,000 meals for the needy daily; most of the meals are delivered, but an average of 315 free meals are served on site each day.

Cathedral Kitchen, which is located only one mile east on Federal Street from the new Rutgers–Camden Nursing and Science Building, hosts a free dental clinic that has treated more than 800 residents. “The space had primarily been dental,” said DeShields, who has been CEO of Project H.O.P.E. since 2003. “Karen Talarico, executive director of Cathedral Kitchen, always envisioned having primary health-care services on site. Kathy came along and said, ‘How can we make that happen now?’”

Project H.O.P.E. submitted applica­tions to federal and state agencies to add Cathedral Kitchen to its approved scope of services and worked with Jackson and Talarico to utilize nurse practitioners from the faculty practice as staffing for the satellite site. Jackson and fellow faculty member Nancy Pontes, an assistant professor for the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, and Barbara Schwarz, a certified medical assistant for Project H.O.P.E., began seeing patients one day a week in the spring. “Even with the uncertainty of health insurance in this country, we see anyone,” Jackson said. “We don’t see you just one time— you become a patient of ours. We’ll provide preventative care and meet any other health needs you might have.”

Jackson added that this type of care for those unable to access it is a cost-savings benefit to the local health-care system by helping to prevent expensive emergency room visits or hospitalizations.

A Patient’s Perspective

Mark Woodall is happy the clinic came along when it did. A 52-year-old Camden resident, he had been feeling bad for about two years. “I had problems breathing,” he said. “I would bend over and get shortness of breath.”

He let his symptoms go untreated for two reasons. “I was afraid to go to the doctor,” Woodall said. “I didn’t have insurance at the time, but my main concern was something being really wrong.”

Treatment at the clinic revealed that he had several treatable issues, and that a specialty referral was needed. Medication “cleared the issues up,” although he is still doing follow up. “I didn’t have to have surgery,” he said. “I feel much better.”

Elizabeth Okwamba

Elizabeth Okwamba SNC’14, a nurse at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and student in the School of Nursing’s doctor of nursing practice program, lives in Camden and volunteers in the faculty nursing practice clinic.

Student Opportunities

Jackson recruits students to volunteer in the clinic, giving them an opportunity to learn about urban health issues. One who stepped forward is Elizabeth Okwamba, a 2014 alumna of the School of Nursing–Camden who is studying in Rutgers–Camden’s doctor of nursing practice program and works as a nurse at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

A native of Nigeria who moved to Camden in 2008 when she was 17, Okwamba earned an associate’s degree from Camden County College before beginning her studies at Rutgers–Camden. She was inspired by her participation in the service-learning journey course Health and Healing in Guatemala in her final undergraduate semester. Her work included educating Mayan women on health issues and building stoves for them that alleviated smoke exposure common to outdoor cooking methods. “That trip was great,” she said. “We learned a lot. But behind it, the soul was there. We made a difference.”

Okwamba also has participated in public health outreach work with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, so volunteering in the clinic Jackson established at Cathedral Kitchen came naturally. “Wherever I find myself, I want to get involved in something like this,” she said.

Project H.O.P.E.’s DeShields, whose first job after finishing her nursing degree at Gloucester County College in 1979 was as a nurse at Cooper University Hospital, said that the community health experience can inspire students to fulfill a major need in urban health care. She added that through her work in nursing and later her graduate work in social work at Rutgers–Camden, she was motivated to help those in need. DeShields, who has spent most of her career working in Camden, said she is just one of many alumni who do so. “There are so many people who came out of the door of Rutgers–Camden who are here in the city and Camden County who continue to serve the community,” she said.

Kathleen Jackson

Jackson’s efforts to improve the health of Camden residents have involved many alumni, including DeShields, left, and James Comstock SSW’84, a licensed clinical social worker for Project H.O.P.E.

Jackson’s Commitment

Jackson was working as a nurse practitioner in Mercer County more than a decade ago when she volunteered to help a van that went into Trenton to provide primary care to residents. “Until you really meet people and talk with them—until you get touched by that—you don’t realize how difficult it is to live on a day-to-day basis without resources.”

A native of South Jersey who lives in Medford Lakes, Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree from the Thomas Jefferson University School of Nursing, master’s degrees in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania and in sociology from Rutgers, and her doctoral degree from the Rutgers legacy University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She has been working with people in Camden for eight years—with no plans to stop. “I like being able to help close to home and in South Jersey,” she said. “I want to bring people and resources together to improve health. Healthier lives are better lives.”


Posted in: 2017 FALL

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