ATLANTIC CITY — In a city as diverse in demographics and economic status as Atlantic City, having access to quality care can mean the difference between life and death.
Due to a variety of factors, Atlantic City has some of the worst health outcomes in the state, from infant mortality to cancer to heart disease to diabetes, data show.
Ensuring everyone on the island has access to health services regardless of insurance coverage or income level is in the mission statement of Southern Jersey Family Medical Centers (SJFMC), which has been operating in the city for three decades.
The federally funded nonprofit operates between two buildings and three city blocks on Atlantic Avenue, offering primary and preventative services, dentistry, obstetrics, gynecological and pediatric care.
“We provide all of those things right there for them,” said Destiny C. Wood, director of women’s health services for SJFMC.
Atlantic City’s poor health conditions are worsened in part due to the challenges of living in an economically depressed city, including a lack of transportation and of a grocery store, as well as poverty and adverse childhood experiences, Wood said.
“I feel like when you look at the health disparities, social determinates have a lot to do with it for us,” said Wood. “And all of those things are contributing factors to the presence of chronic health conditions.”
SJMFC was started in 1977 to provide health services for migrant farm works and has expanded through the years from seven employees to 250, serving 51,000 patients at eight sites across three counties.
The staff at SJFMC is as diverse as its patient population, which Wood said helps provide positive and culturally competent care.
“I love that we are a diverse population of not just providers, our workers, we are a diverse group for sure. But I think that patients do and will identify,” Wood said.
At its Atlantic City main office in 1300 block of Atlantic Avenue, the medical center serves more than a 100 patients per day for adult primary care and dentistry, according to the practice manager Jodine Patterson.
“We do so much to take care of patients,” Patterson said. “We see everyone and our motto is we don’t turn patients away.”
The center has a care coordination team and a chronic disease coordinator who sees all patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity, as well as behavioral health issues.
“A majority of times, patients don’t really have the knowledge of what complications come from their condition,” said Yoammy Pozo-Sosa, the chronic disease care coordinator at the Atlantic City center.
Pozo-Sosa said she works to make sure patients get the best care, beyond just going to regular doctor’s visits.
Helping to reach patients where they are, SJFMC provides classes for diabetes self-care management, some of which are held at the All Wars Center in the city as participation has increased. The classes include cooking demonstrations, incentives and other methods of interactive learning, Wood said.
“The real goal of that is to engage the patients, where they’re involved in their own self-care management and decision making,” she said.
SJFMC also has a Community and Patient Engagement (CAPE) team that serves as the referral team for those patients who need services beyond what is provided the medical center.
“We find a lot of the time you give the patients the information, you may send them for a referral, but they wait to make the appointment,” Wood said.
She said the CAPE team helps connect the dots.
Quality of life
SJFMC’s second site is focused on women and children and is located in the 1100 block.
Each year, SJFMC doctors deliver 600 babies at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center Mainland campus in Galloway Township. Wood said they are getting ready to roll out a doula program this spring similar to the one offered through Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative this year.
Woods said the center continues to expand its services and build community partnerships within Atlantic City to serve patients’ needs.
“Our mission here is to provide culturally proficient healthcare services and activities designed to reduce disparity,” Wood said. “Our goal with that is to improve health outcomes and improve the quality of life for the community that we serve.”