Camden Promise Neighborhood’s School Based Health Center fosters health and learning

Evelyne Kane and Aaron Truchil of the Camden Coalition; Candice Dias and Louis Klein of Camden Promise Neighborhood at Center For Family Services
February 8, 2021
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Camden Promise Neighborhood & the interplay of health and education

Camden Promise Neighborhood (CPN) is a place-based, collective impact effort to improve opportunities for children growing up in Camden. CPN offers comprehensive services that are designed to help children reach their full potential, from birth to college and career. The CPN team is led by Center For Family Services (CFS) and includes community residents and a diverse array of community-based organizations. The Camden Coalition serves as the CPN lead partner for data management, analysis, and evaluation.

Ingrained in the CPN theory of change is the recognition of the interconnectedness between education and the social determinants of health (SDOH). Not only is education a social determinant, there is a substantial evidence base pointing to education level as a primary driver of health disparities across geography and demographics. However, education and health exist in a bidirectional relationship with one another: education is a determinant of health outcomes, and health and well-being are prerequisites to students’ ability to thrive academically. 

Particularly for communities like Camden, where many residents have complex health and social needs, it is essential for schools and educational support programs to understand and address the health needs of students and families that underlie educational attainment. 

Identifying & addressing student needs through a school-based health center

One model of addressing the health needs of students in the neighborhood is the Cooper Health Center at KIPP Lanning Square, launched in September 2018 through a partnership between CPN, KIPP NJ, and Cooper University Health Care. In the first full year of operations, the school-based health center (SBHC) saw nearly 500 students and had approximately 900 total visits. The SBHC provides walk-in sick visits, well visits, vaccinations, and on-site dental services, as well as wrap-around services to address health-related needs like food access. 

As one parent shared in a KIPP blog post published in 2019, the SBHC was of enormous benefit to her family. By signing a consent in advance, her children were able to access medical care without her taking time off from work to be at the appointment. When her son experienced an asthma attack, the quick access to health services helped her family to avoid a trip to the emergency department. 

Improved access to and coordination of health services is one of the major benefits of the SBHC. Overall, the completion rate for scheduled appointments was high (over 84%). Early analysis of the health center’s data shows that 37% of children seen by the SBHC were diagnosed with a chronic condition, with asthma being the most common. Asthma has been the leading driver in children accessing emergency and hospital-based care in Camden, and coordination between school nurses and primary care providers of children with asthma has been a long-standing challenge. The SBHC minimizes the coordination challenges and reduces the need to send children to the emergency department. 

Our analysis has also shown that more than half of students visiting the SBHC attend multiple appointments. This suggests that the SBHC is and can be an effective setting for improved management of chronic conditions. The SBHC can also provide on-site vaccinations for students, avoiding the need for families to make and attend a follow-up appointment with their primary care provider. 

Another benefit lies in the health data collected by the SBHC and the opportunity for school and community partners to analyze this data to understand and address students’ health (and other) needs. Over the past year, the Camden Coalition and CFS’ CPN evaluation team has done preliminary analysis to understand how families are utilizing the SBHC and the potential impact of SBHC usage on student attendance. 

This data will help CPN programs identify and address health-related needs on both the individual and community levels. For instance, if there are significant numbers of students with a developmental diagnosis, a school may need to increase access to social workers and other mental health supports. On a community level, a high prevalence of a condition like asthma could prompt a community-level intervention like asthma management education for families or resources to remediate environmental hazards in students’ homes.

Future opportunities for innovation & interventions

The SBHC did not see students in-person during COVID-19 related periods of remote instruction, but reopened on January 14, 2021. In many ways, the pandemic has highlighted the need for schools — particularly in communities like Camden that are impacted by health disparities — to address the health and social needs of students so that they can achieve educational success. 

As concerns grow about the impact of delayed pediatric care (including immunizations) during the pandemic, as well as the urgency of distributing the new COVID-19 vaccines, SBHCs are exceptionally well-positioned to help close the gap in delayed care to students, as well as to bolster community access and uptake of COVID vaccinations. CPN is already in the process of positioning the Camden SBHC to help close this vaccination gap as schools reopen for in-person classes.

There are also many opportunities to expand the use of health data to assess and address student and community needs. While SBHCs are one potential data source, there is also opportunity to use health data available through a Health Information Exchange (HIE) to design and target interventions. Expanding HIE access to schools, programs like CPN, and other community-based organizations and institutions offers many opportunities for continued innovation: see what the Camden Coalition has done with faith based organizations in Camden for one example. 

As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate both health and educational disparities in communities like Camden, this is a crucial moment to employ data-informed approaches to close these gaps for students, their families, and their communities. 

For SBHC hours and scheduling, call 856-342-2001 and press 6 for the peds department.


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