A Rutgers community health center that has dramatically improved care for public housing residents in Newark will soon start providing mental health services to address a pressing need for people coping with the stress of living in poverty.
Cindy Sickora, founder of Jordan and Harris Community Health Center and director of community programs at Rutgers School of Nursing, recently won a $1.5 million, three-year Health Resources and Services Administration grant to add mental health services to the center to help community residents combat depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health issues.
“There’s greater recognition today that the stress associated with living in poor communities is far beyond anything people in more affluent households have to deal with,” says Sickora. “And the evidence we have supports the need for mental health services to help this population.”Research published just last year in Science indicates that poverty has a strong influence on the mental health of adults and children. The researchers reported that poor housing conditions, distressed neighborhoods and financial stressors can deny individuals the “mental bandwith” to execute tasks that might help lift them out of poverty, such as attending night school or searching for a new job.
Adding mental health services builds on the center’s success in improving the health of residents in the Hyatt Court, Pennington Court and Terrell Homes housing facilities by making sure they take prescribed medications, keep medical appointments and follow through on treatment. The center also has worked to expand residents’ access to care by helping them enroll in health insurance.
The grant provides for a psychiatric advanced practice nurse to join the Jordan and Harris professional health care team. In addition, it funds the training of 800 Rutgers nursing, medical, dental, allied health, pharmacy and social work students in developing an integrated approach to care.
All services eventually will be available as well for two additional Newark housing communities – the 170 families at the Ingerman Apartments and the 354 families at Stephen Crane Village, marking the first expansions of the Jordan and Harris health care model for vulnerable populations. Services are expected to begin there in January 2015.
The center has made great strides in the last three years improving residents’ physical health. Among its major achievements, diabetic patients have been stabilized, blood pressures have improved, hospital re-admission rates have fallen and children with asthma are receiving asthma action plans, with parents being taught how to implement them.
Sickora hopes the new service will make significant inroads in residents’ mental health.
“If we can address the anxiety and depression that would be huge,” Sickora says. “We are hoping that the right care and attention will help give residents what they need to improve their individual circumstances and be motivated to break the cycle of poverty.”