2022 marks the 20th anniversary of the series of breakfast meetings that grew to become the Camden Coalition. Out of these monthly gatherings of care providers in Camden, NJ emerged a multidisciplinary nonprofit that has transformed hundreds of lives, built deep partnerships across South Jersey, helped guide state policy and build new care delivery models, and worked to coalesce the field of complex care nationwide.
In a nod to our breakfast meeting origins, on December 1 we gathered many of our local partners, Board members, community members, state and county officials, as well as current and former staff for a breakfast celebration at the Hilton Garden Inn on the Camden waterfront.
From partnerships to ecosystems
“This is not just a small, community-based organization,” Camden Coalition President and CEO Kathleen Noonan told the assembled attendees. “This organization punches way above its weight class. And it’s really not just one organization, it’s a room full of people and organizations working together to improve care.”
“When I first started at the Camden Coalition in 2010, I would have never imagined us working at the local, state, and national levels,” said Victor Murray, Senior Director of Community Engagement and Capacity Building. “And having grown up here in the Centerville neighborhood of Camden, I would have never imagined that our city would be where it is today.”
Many of the event’s speakers remarked on the transformation that the city of Camden has undergone since the Camden Coalition’s founding. “Think about Camden 20 years ago today, and how far we’ve come,” said Camden County Commissioner Director Lou Cappelli, Jr. “Part of what we’ve been trying to do in County government is exactly what the Camden Coalition has done: build partnerships and coalitions throughout the city. I feel a real excitement from residents about what is happening and where we’re going.”
The City of Camden presented the Camden Coalition with a proclamation from Mayor Victor Carstarphen celebrating our two decades of work “contributing to the betterment of our community.”
“20 years goes by fast,” said Camden Coalition founder Jeffrey Brenner, now CEO of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. In those first breakfast meetings, he recounted, “we had no idea what we were doing, or where this was going to go, or what our long-term plans were. We just knew that we could do better. We learned that having vision and values, and figuring out how to execute on that, really does make change.”
Transforming systems by caring for the most under-served
The core hypothesis driving the Camden Coalition’s work has always been that if we can identify those with the most complex health and social needs — those whom our current system is failing the most — and figure out how to improve their care, we can apply those new approaches to transform our systems and improve care for everyone.
That original insight, which formed the foundation of our “healthcare hotspotting” and complex care work, has inspired providers and leaders across Camden, South Jersey, and the state of New Jersey to build new partnerships and approach care in new ways.
“I remember reading the [‘Hot Spotters’] article when I was up in Trenton, and thinking, ‘What the heck is this? Why didn’t I think of that?’” said NJ Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “The Camden Coalition was starting at the grassroots and saying we can do better, and we’re not going to stop until we do.”
Sarah Adelman, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services, shared that she first came across the Camden Coalition in its second year of existence, when she joined a walking tour and met some of the people whose lives were being transformed by our care management programs.
“I realized that something so intuitive and obvious [as care management for people with complex needs] was something so difficult to do,” she said. “The Camden Coalition is a unique resource for partners and has been a critical partner to the Department of Human Services for more than a decade, providing on-the-ground intelligence on unmet housing needs and food insecurity in Camden and detailed case studies to help us identify needs of Medicaid members and serve them better.”
One of the hallmarks of the Camden Coalition’s approach has been to amplify community voices, ensuring that community members are represented in our organization’s governance, leadership, and planning processes.
“Through my journey and as chair of the Community Advisory Committee, I know firsthand how the Coalition has changed me and my community for the better,” said committee Chair Jamal Brown. “The Camden Coalition gives us a chance to speak and play a role in improving community health.”
“Recognizing the need for shared leadership with communities is how we’re going to transform systems and communities in this state,” said Christine Beyer, Commissioner for the NJ Department of Children and Families. “And we’re taking the lead from the Camden Coalition.”
Not done yet
Despite the strides the Camden Coalition and the city of Camden have made, we are not done yet. “It’s from the history that we get that fire in the belly to go forward,” said Lou Bezich, Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at Cooper University Health Care, and chair of the Camden Coalition Board of Trustees.
“You’re bringing public health to action with boots on the ground every single day,” said Commissioner Persichilli. “That’s what’s going to make a difference for the next 20 years.”