Michelle Harrison, left, and Cindy Sickora


Michelle Harrison, left, is one of nine community health workers who support the health care professionals working in the new nurse-managed community health center. Cindy Sickora, an associate professor at the School of Nursing, helped establish the community health worker program.

John Emerson

In  2011, a new nurse-managed community health center had just opened with sites in three low-income housing developments in Newark. The health center was hiring within the developments for community health workers, and Michelle Harrison, who lived in Terrell Homes, applied with the hope that she could “help the people in the community do better for themselves,” she says.

Harrison is now one of nine community health workers who support the center’s health care professionals—faculty and students from the School of Nursing, New Jersey Medical School, and the School of Health Related Professions, which are all part of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. Harrison and her peers do everything from taking blood pressure readings and picking up prescriptions to responding to late-night health crises. They also make sure that patients are sticking to their regimens, by counting pills and insulin syringes if that’s what it takes.

The rewards have been greater than Harrison could have imagined. She cites the 18-year-old with hypertension who has changed his diet and lowered his blood pressure; the elderly woman who has cut back on her medications, thanks to the center’s screenings and wellness visits;  and the scores of women who, because of the center’s educational programs about human papillomavirus, are seeking gynecological exams.

That was precisely what Cindy Sickora envisioned when the Jordan and Harris Community Health Center was founded with a grant of $851,000 from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. Sickora SN’86,‘09, an associate professor at the School of Nursing, knew that residents of the city’s low-income housing developments were less likely to receive quality health care due to a dearth of primary care providers in the neighborhood and a lack of access to transportation—problems endemic in low-income communities—and that they would be more likely to seek care from providers they trusted. Thus, Sickora and Hosseinali Shahidi, an assistant professor at New Jersey Medical School who serves as the center’s medical director, established the community health worker program and formed a board of community members to help determine the type of care offered. “If you want to make a difference in health outcomes in underserved communities,” Sickora says, “you need to be working in the community, with the community.”

The center maintains a presence within four Newark developments: Hyatt Court, Pennington Court, and Terrell Homes, all of which opened in 2011; and Stephen Crane Village, which was added in fall 2015. Private donors have contributed some $1.5 million to keep the center running. They include the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, Children’s Health Fund, William Randolph Hearst Endowed Fund, Frances L. & Edwin L. Cummings Memorial Fund, New Jersey Health Foundation, and March of Dimes Foundation.

Their support is changing, and saving, lives. From January to December of 2013, average blood pressure readings among treated patients dropped from 160/92 to 149/86 and the vaccination rate for pediatric patients was an astounding 100 percent. In 2011, Sickora and her staff inoculated 50 residents against the flu. This year, they’re expecting the number to approach 2,000. “Now I go outside and say to young guys, ‘It’s time to get your flu shots,’” says Sickora. “They know me and my staff, and they come.”