Rowan researcher serves as evaluator for new ‘Roots to Prevention’ initiative in Camden

Rowan researcher serves as evaluator for new ‘Roots to Prevention’ initiative in Camden

Health & Exercise Science Professor Dr. Nicole A. Vaughn (far left) is joined by fellow “Roots to Prevention” team members (from left) Koren Norwood of the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services; Jonathan Wetstein of Parkside Business and Community in Partnership (PBCIP); April Schetler of Virtua Health; Bridget Phifer of PBCIP; and Greg Mayers of Virtua Health.

A Camden group has won a national grant competition that will increase both healthy food options and income opportunities for city residents.

Roots to Prevention Partnership (RTP) recently secured the BUILD Health Challenge award. RTP is among 18 awardees nationwide, selected from more than 130 applicants.

Rowan University Health & Exercise Science Professor Dr. Nicole A. Vaughn, a faculty member in the Community Health Program in the School of Health Professions, is a researcher and evaluator for Camden’s Roots to Prevention.

The BUILD Health award includes a $250,000 grant — plus a $250,000 matching contribution of cash and in-kind support from Virtua Health-- to implement a new healthy food access program. As part of the project, Rowan will provide direct support as well as in-kind contributions. The award will support free and low-cost produce for eligible Camden residents, nutrition education, and city produce farming initiatives.

“Working in urban communities to improve community health system alignment among hospitals, community-based organizations, the county health department and the University is innovative and needed to tackle complex problems such as food access,” said Vaughn.

“The partners for this initiative are driven by the opportunity to collaborate with the Camden community to build a food environment that promotes health and economic opportunity for urban farmers, patients, corner stores and residents.”

The project will provide opportunities for Rowan undergraduate and graduate students to assist in the research activities and support the work, according to Vaughn, whose research interests include chronic disease prevention, community-based participatory research, reducing health disparities and dissemination and implementation science.

The BUILD Health Challenge aims to reduce health inequities in U.S. communities. It is funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and other prominent organizations. 

RTP’s long-term goals are to improve Camden’s food environment and create sustainable solutions. The group’s core partners include Parkside Business & Community in Partnership (PBCIP), Virtua Health, Camden County, Rowan University, The Food Trust, and the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers.

“This award will enable us to encourage local health care providers to purchase produce grown in their communities,” said Bridget Phifer, executive director of PBCIP. “It will help us reduce hunger and the prevalence of diet-related illnesses while also supporting job creation, land redevelopment, and economic revitalization.”

“This is a visionary initiative, and we’re thrilled to support it,” said Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE, president and CEO of Virtua Health, South Jersey’s largest health system. “Social and economic factors have a huge impact on people’s health. The RTP initiative will address the roots of these issues to help the people of Camden live healthier, happier lives.”

RTP will also form a committee of Camden residents to provide insights and help guide the program, such as identifying the challenges residents face in accessing healthy foods.

Improving nutrition, supporting economic growth

The $500,000 in awards will partially fund these key activities for two-plus years:

  • Launch the “Food Bucks Rx” program at Virtua Health’s Camden Campus to provide vouchers that can be redeemed for fruits and vegetables.
  • Establish six Food Bucks Rx (FBRx) redemption sites in Camden, to expand access to healthy foods and other program benefits — such as cooking demonstration and health screenings.
  • Create income opportunities for local food growers by supplementing the FBRx food supply with locally grown produce via an expanded Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
  • Collect and analyze data on these initiatives to measure their effectiveness and develop long-term solutions that promote economic development through urban farming as well as cultivate a healthier food environment in Camden.

BUILD is a national program that supports partnerships between community-based organizations, health departments, and hospitals/health systems that are working to address important health issues in their community. Each community collaborative addresses root causes of chronic disease (also known as social determinants of health) in their local area by leveraging multisector partnerships and working with their local community. To date, BUILD has supported 55 projects in 24 states and Washington, DC.

BUILD stands for Bold, Upstream, Integrated, Local, and Data-Driven, which together form a powerful model to transform community health. The BUILD Health Challenge award provides funding, capacity-building support, and access to a national peer learning network to enhance collaborative partnerships locally and address a city’s most pressing health challenges.