Hundreds of Newark children and their families now have access to a new health center located in a public elementary school in the city’s West Ward.
City and Newark Public Schools leaders on Monday unveiled the new Mary Eliza Mahoney Health Center at Speedway Avenue Elementary School. The opening of the new health center, which is available to all Newark residents regardless of health insurance status and ability to pay, comes at a time when a number of city families experience limited access to medical services and barriers to health care.
“We are excited about establishing a footprint here in the West Ward and engaging with residents here in our community,” said Ketlen Baptiste-Alsbrook, director of the Newark Department of Health and the new health center, during Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the clinic.
In Newark, nearly 20% of residents under 65 do not have health insurance, according to U.S. Census data. The new health center is “the first step along the path” to tackle the problem among the city’s most vulnerable residents, Baptiste-Alsbrook added.
This is the first time the city has opened a health clinic in a Newark public school, according to City of Newark press secretary Susan Garofalo.
Black and Hispanic residents in New Jersey face barriers to health care and affordable medical coverage due to limited access to health care plans through their jobs, cost-related challenges, and transportation issues among other inequities.
Across the state, Black New Jersey residents are twice as likely to be uninsured and are more likely to seek coverage through public programs, according to research from the New Jersey Policy Perspective. The state’s immigrant communities are also the least likely to be insured and roughly 17% of Hispanic residents remain uninsured in the state, according to the New Jersey Policy Perspective.
Studies show that school-based health clinics can help improve student grades and attendance and reduce disparities by making health care more accessible to students from low-income backgrounds. The new Newark school-based health center is a partnership between the city and Newark Public Schools and is funded through American Rescue Plan dollars. It includes a small waiting area and four exam rooms equipped with medical devices and other equipment.
The clinic is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to residents in need of adult, pediatric, and behavioral health care. Residents will be seen by one of two physicians — Dr. Rachel Tikum for family medicine and Dr. Ijeoma Onyeagoch for behavioral health care services.
“We’re trying to do more outreach in the community since [this clinic] is right here in the school and is more accessible. The fact that we take insured and uninsured residents and walk-ins is very promising,” Tikum said during Monday’s grand opening.
The center has a separate entrance and exit from the elementary school that leads out into the parking lot on South Orange Avenue and “should not interfere with school activities,” city officials said.
City officials also said the school-based health center will support students’ mental health at a time where Black and Latino students have less access to mental health support than they did a decade ago.
Newark Public Schools teachers and staff can refer students to any of the clinic’s services. The clinic staff will also work with school nurses to identify potential needs, Baptiste-Alsbrook added.
Additionally, the district’s 2022-23 budget included increased staffing of social workers and counselors for any of its 38,000 students who may need behavioral support.
Residents interested in visiting the new clinic can make an appointment by calling 1-800- 734-7083.
Jessie Gómez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at email@example.com.