Promising Practice: Reaching Out to Rural New Jersey

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By: Beth Blevins

Although most folks don’t think of New Jersey as “rural,” the New Jersey Office of Primary Care and Rural Health (NJ SORH) is working hard to reach out to the more than 700,000 residents who live in what the state defines as its non-metro areas.

Christine King, a health educator with the Atlantic County Health Dept., shares information on rural health

As part of that ongoing effort, in September the NJ SORH launched a statewide celebration, New Jersey Rural Health Weeks. The celebration and related events took place September 17th through 30th, timed to coincide with New Jersey’s harvest time, according to Roslyn Council, Rural Health Coordinator at the NJ SORH. “NJ Rural Health Weeks is an opportunity for small towns and farming communities to work together to celebrate their rural and unique characteristics,” Council said. (NJ SORH also participates in National Rural Health Week in November).

The theme of the celebration was New Jersey Celebrates Rural: Touching Lives, Transforming Communities and Renewing Spirits. “Rural communities explored opportunities to innovate, collaborate, educate, and communicate and took the pledge to become involved with the Rural Health Movement,” Council said.  Over 1,500 individuals participated in educational events in rural areas throughout the state that targeted prevention and treatment of chronic disease, and promoted good nutrition and physical fitness. The event also honored local health departments, federally qualified health centers (FQHC’s), hospitals, and other health care providers “who reached above and beyond to deliver quality care services to rural communities, and who work together to ensure access, quality, and equity in rural health services,” Council said. The activities were “funded through partnership with other rural stakeholders,” she said. In addition, pre/post evaluations were conducted at the sites.

Megan Sheppard (l), Health Officer of Cumberland County Health Dept., and Charlotta Birdsall, Chairperson for Cumberland County Board of Health, attend a 5K Run and Walk in Bridgeton, part of NJ Rural Health Weeks in October

The celebration was publicized via banners displayed in 15 towns, live website telecasting of events, and local TV and radio broadcasting. Events also were showcased in the NJ Department of Health’s Health Matters newsletter, local newspapers including the Pine Barrens Tribute and Cumberland County News, and on the websites of rural FQHCs, which shared the unique stories of rural communities, Council said.  In addition, Council attended celebrations and presented a proclamation signed by Governor Chris Christie to show support in the six counties that have rural residents. “The success of these events showed that resources, collaboration, and partnership provided access to health services for rural New Jerseyans,” Council said.

NJ SORH is continuing its outreach to farming communities throughout the year with special attention to farmworkers. Through its cross-sector partnerships with New Jersey’s Maternal Child Health, Office of Diabetes Prevention and Control Program, and the Office of Cancer Control and Prevention, it is participating in activities that include assessing migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families for case management services; conducting on-site health screenings at rural auctions and feed stores; training farmworkers as Lay Health Promoters that live in the migrant farms; and, offering drive-through clinics at local fair grounds.

Eva Turbiner, President/CEO of Zufall Health Center (ZHC), Roslyn Council. NJ SORH, Esperanzo Gonzalez, ZHC outreach worker, and Michelle Blanchfield, ZHC Director of Special Populations, at a NJ Rural health Weeks event. ZHC dental and medical vans provided free health care services at Brookside Terrace in Newton

Rural partners, including local health departments, FQHCs, and community-based organizations, are offering mobile health and dental vans at migrant farms and other community settings like libraries and food banks, and providing transportation to FQHCs for rural patients who require follow-up or specialist services.  “The New Jersey Rural Health Advisory Committee has identified and implemented solutions that make it easier for migrant and immigrant farm workers to be healthy in places they live, learn, work, and play,” Council said.

 

As it continues its outreach, NJ SORH faces an ongoing challenge of trying to provide services in areas of a state that the federal government does not necessarily define as rural, Council said. Even the state’s smallest boroughs and villages are contained within Metropolitan Statistical Areas and the townships with the lowest population density revert to the Rural Urban Commuting Area (RUCA) code of their county, she said. In order to serve their rural residents, NJ SORH defines rural counties and rural communities as those having a population density of fewer than 500 people per square mile. “We must focus on a system change to promote optimal healthcare services to these at-risk rural populations,” Council stated. “At the NJ SORH, we are exploring ways of building a population of health.”

Does your SORH have a “Promising Practice”? We’re interested in the innovative, effective and valuable work that SORHs are doing. Contact Ashley Muninger at ashleym@nosorh.org to set up a short email or phone interview in which you can tell your story.


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