New Jerseyans Step Up to Keep Our State Strong

By Bob Atkins, PhD, RN, FAAN, Director of New Jersey Health Initiatives and Diane Hagerman, MA, Deputy Director of Programs at New Jersey Health Initiatives

“When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Fred Rogers.

From the heroes on the front line, to first graders doing their part to “flatten the curve” by staying at home, we’re seeing helpers in many different shapes and forms during this unprecedented health crisis.

At New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI), we have the privilege of seeing firsthand how organizations we support are coming together by acting collaboratively and altruistically, even while remaining physically apart.

It’s inspiring to see how quickly nonprofits are changing course by revising budgets and redirecting funds to address immediate challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Kim Blanda, project director of the Hunterdon County Partnership for Health, proposed shifting grant dollars to provide meals for children in the coalition’s community who live in households that don’t get enough to eat and are missing meals because of school shutdowns.

In Ocean County, the Toms River Family Health & Support Coalition will, for the near future, refocus its recently launched mini-grant program to support the COVID-19 response and the needs of the Toms River community. This will enable nonprofits serving Toms River to get funds quickly for work directly addressing the COVID-19 crisis.

And, while the Building Bridges to Better Health coalition put on hold the work it had planned, they’ve also shifted grant funds to meet the immediate food availability issues among residents in Bound Brook and South Bound Brook.

The great strength and sense of purpose of these community coalitions enables them to quickly identify and respond to immediate needs. And, the trust that partners have for each other will help them endure this difficult time and continue to better understand, engage and serve their communities for years to come.

The Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs in Camden, another NJHI partner, is working to keep communities and stakeholders informed. Through a collaboration with researchers at Rutgers University-Camden they developed a report describing the potential spread of COVID-19 relative to hospital capacity in southern New Jersey. They modeled what peak hospital demand will be in South Jersey counties, and when we will hit that peak.

A number of news outlets have used this analysis in their reporting and Governor Murphy referenced the Rand report in a letter to President Trump requesting deployment of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary hospitals.

In addition to the actions of Governor Murphy, other New Jersey leaders are tapping into the civic strength and cohesiveness within our state to alleviate the strain on our healthcare system. For example, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli is working with the New Jersey State Nurses Association to identify nurses willing to volunteer their time, talent and energy to area hospitals, county testing sites and community health centers.

Although the social and economic fallout from this crisis will be like nothing we’ve ever seen, the civic energy and innovativeness of solution seekers from all sectors and communities as they act to take care of each other and keep New Jersey strong makes us optimistic.

To our grantees, our partners, our communities – we see you, we thank you and we support you.

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