About two years ago, Victoria Lane took the blood pressure of a female neighbor and immediately drew upon her health care training. Her BP was high and Lane convinced the unwilling woman and her family to get to the emergency room quickly.
The hospital confirmed a heart attack was occurring and ordered multiple stents to open the arteries.
“After she was released, she called me and thanked me for saving her life,” says Lane. “That’s one of the things that happened at Jordan and Harris that I’m most proud of.”
Lane is one of the original group of community health workers, also known as patient advocates, at Newark’s Jordan and Harris Community Health Center, a unique approach to improving access to health care for underserved populations. The center, opened in 2011, is operated by the Rutgers School of Nursing, with Hosseinali Shahidi, associate professor in emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, serving as the center’s medical director.
Trained by Rutgers and outside professionals, Lane and her colleagues assist residents of the Hyatt Court, Pennington Court and Terrell Homes housing facilities in various ways – ensuring that they take prescribed medications, attend medical appointments, and follow through on treatments – as well as promote health literacy and help residents navigate the health care system.
In its first three years, the center made significant strides, including stabilizing diabetic patients and improving blood pressure levels. With her tenacity and commitment, Lane became the “go-to” patient advocate among the first 10 community health workers, recently earning a promotion to supervisor that holds special meaning for her.
“It’s made me feel accomplished, that my hard work has been recognized, and motivated me to pursue my goals,” says Lane, who had put her college education on hold to work and care for her three children but who has returned to school and is planning to become a nurse.
Demonstrating she had the instincts and the willingness to do whatever it takes to help others, particularly those with limited resources, has surprised Lane herself, whom friends and family knew as an introvert before the positive results at Jordan and Harris began registering.
“Being a community health worker made me come out of my shell,” says Lane, who also possesses outstanding computer skills. “I’ve always been very shy.”
Lane began to notice she could make a difference in patients’ lives a few years earlier when she worked part time for nearly six years as a certified nursing assistant primarily for elderly patients in Kearny’s West Hudson Hospital and Clara Maass Continuing Care Center.
“I liked the time I had alone with patients,” she recalls. “They often needed somebody to talk to. Many did not have that.”
Lane’s effect on patients prompted several acquaintances to suggest that she consider becoming a nurse. So when a friend told her about the opportunity to join the first class of Jordan and Harris community health workers, she applied and experienced the intensive screening process overseen by Cindy Sickora, the Jordan and Harris founder and the School of Nursing's director of community programs.
"Victoria is an amazing woman," said Sickora, who teamed with Shahidi to create the community health workers program. "Beneath her shy exterior is a bright, highly motivated person who sees the positive in everyone and has a special gift of bridging the gap between the community, her staff, and the administrative staff at Rutgers. Victoria rises to every challenge."
When she is not on duty at Jordan and Harris or managing her household, Lane attends Rutgers University, striving to maintain a 3.3 GPA through 24 credits so that she can apply to the School of Nursing next year to pursue a bachelor of science degree in nursing.
The Jordan and Harris experience has taught Lane valuable life lessons she hopes to pass on to the newest group of community health workers, who graduate from their training this week. Lane takes her own health more seriously now. “I want to lead by example,” she says. “I’ve learned that I can’t tell my patients to take care of themselves without taking care of myself.”
In addition, Lane has acquired the confidence and knowledge to develop a career of which she, her husband, Markeete, and their children can be proud.
“I hope I can be an inspiration to others,” she says. “I live with the same difficult housing and environmental conditions as my neighbors – the people we are caring for. But the difficult conditions don’t mean we can’t grow and can’t make the effort to improve our lives.”