Rutgers University–Camden (N.J.) nursing faculty are providing primary care to students and families at a new school-based health center in the LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden.
“We have to think about health and education together, and the social determinants and barriers to health,” said Nancy Pontes, PhD, RN, APN, FNP-BC, DRCC, director of the Rutgers/LEAP Health and Wellness Center and assistant dean of faculty practice at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden. “We believe we can provide comprehensive health services that look at the underlying causes of illness, and we can make a difference.”
Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, PhD, LEAP chairwoman and a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers University–Camden, said until recently Cooper Health System operated a community clinic at the site. When that clinic closed in 2013, Bonilla-Santiago saw an opportunity to have a school-based health center designed specifically to serve LEAP Academy students and their families, who often seek care at the emergency room for lack of access to other providers. The new health center opened April 2.
Easy access to care
“We wanted to create a friendly healthcare system where families can come and get primary care,” Bonilla-Santiago said. “We notice a lot of our single moms never get a Pap smear or get checked for diabetes or hypertension, which tend to be the biggest issues with our families. With the children, it’s a lot of asthma problems and weight issues.”
Nearly 1,400 students attend the school. Pontes anticipates serving up to 4,000 people annually. The health center provides comprehensive care and medical services, including behavioral health, while addressing underlying issues that become barriers to health and learning.
“You have to have good health to function well in school,” Pontes said.
Children will be able to receive treatment for something simple, such as an ear infection, and can return to classes. The NPs perform wellness exams and physicals. In addition, Pontes explained, with the nurse practitioners providing care on site, the children may avoid ED visits and sick days. The NPs aim to manage chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, and keep the youngsters in school so they can learn, Bonilla-Santiago said.
NP students from Rutgers-Camden gain clinical experience at the center. They are developing educational activities for the LEAP students, including promoting healthy eating and lifestyles, and preventing obesity and diabetes.
RN students complete pediatric and community health rotations at LEAP, working with LEAP’s school nurses. They conduct scoliosis, eye, blood pressure and height-weight screenings.
Bonilla-Santiago described an incredible need for nurses to serve low-income families. At LEAP, they gain experience working with high-risk patients and begin to understand the culture, the barriers and the challenges the children and families face.
“The partnership with Rutgers School of Nursing is phenomenal,” Bonilla-Santiago said. “We have gotten so many nurses interested. We’re getting graduate and undergraduate nurses involved in providing healthcare at a low cost.”
During the grand opening of the health center, Joanne Robinson, PhD, RN, GCNS-BC, FAAN, dean of the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, called the facility a “breakthrough for southern New Jersey and Camden.” She reported that nearly 2,000 school-based health centers operate in 45 states, most in urban communities where 70% of the student body comes from underserved populations.
The center operates part time, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but will open five days a week when it will receive full state licensure this fall. It will accept Medicare and Medicaid, which should help sustain the center.