Home • Burlington County News From pediatrics to fresh produce: Virtua Health is on the move

From pediatrics to fresh produce: Virtua Health is on the move

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Kim Bicenti (left to right), Deb Vickers, Victoria Cobb and Steve Martin of the Virtua Health Pediatric Mobile Unit can provide children from infancy to 6 years old in area towns with health-care services such as lead poison testing and school physicals.

On a windy, chilly April 13, the Virtua Health Pediatric Mobile Unit was parked in the Gloucester City High School lot, where more than 300 people were signing up for the third annual Autism Fun Run.

On a sunny and pleasant April 11, a 40-foot-long bus pulled up along the train tracks while residents waited in front of the Palmyra Community Center for the Virtua Health Eat Well Mobile Grocery Store.

Meanwhile the health-care system’s Eat Well Mobile Farmer’s Market – a 23-foot bus brimming with fresh produce – traveled all week selling fruits and vegetables at reduced prices in Burlington and Camden counties.

Virtua Health is on the move with its pediatric services and fresh produce year-round to send a message about good nutrition in underserved areas.

The pediatric unit provides children from infancy to 6 years old in area towns with services that include dental and developmental screenings, testing for lead and related poisoning education, flu shots and school physicals.

During the autism event, the Virtua team of Kim Bicenti, Deb Vickers, Victoria Cobb and Steve Martin were on standby in front of the pediatric unit in case anyone involved in the Fun Run got hurt. The smaller produce bus was also there, loaded with fresh fruits and sports drinks.

“Virtua’s Pediatric Mobile Services Unit is dedicated to advancing health equity by removing barriers that limit people from accessing vital care services,” said Virtua Vice President of Rehabilitation Services Maria Franchio. “By going directly into under-resourced neighborhoods and working with community partners, we believe we can help children onto a path toward optimal health.

” … We can also refer families to additional services – such as early intervention – as needed.”

Franchio also noted that the unit visits daycare centers, schools, community centers and other destinations to reach people in a familiar setting.

“The services we provide are free for patients,” she pointed out. “We are supported by several donors, notably the Joseph Lacroce Foundation, who make this program possible.”

The grocery store bus on its weekly 2 p.m. Thursday visit to Palmyra looked like a supermarket aisle, with displays of fresh vegetables; fruit; eggs; frozen meat and fish; bread; and non-perishable foods, among others.

The vehicle also makes stops every week in Cherry Hill, Sicklerville, Willingboro, Camden, and Delanco, and now in Atlantic City as part of a program created by Gov. Phil Murphy, according to April Schetler, assistant vice president of community health engagement at Virtua.

“You can measure success in so many ways,” she observed. “In the short term, helping to ensure people have enough food to feed their family on a given week is hugely impactful. “Long term, we hope to demonstrate how good food and good health go hand in hand.

“We often survey our customers, and they tell us that they eat better and worry less about cost due to shopping with us,” Schetler continued. “Importantly, we visit the same sites week after week. This allows us to establish relationships, build trust and help people get healthy.”

The farmer’s market bus makes stops each week in Sicklerville, Westampton, Camden, Willingboro, Collingswood and Pennsauken.

“The Virtua Eat Well Mobile Grocery Store – and its sister program, the Eat Well Mobile Farmers Market – strives to increase access to fresh, affordable foods in neighborhoods where they are typically hard to come by,” said Schetler, adding that Virtua also aims to provide culturally relevant foods and access to nutrition education through its partnership with the Rowan University Dietetics Program.

“We believe that healthy eating is the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle,” Schetler noted. “Many people live in areas where fast food and corner stores are prevalent, and fresh food is hard to come by. We are working to change that, and we offer groceries at deeply discounted prices.

“For children, this helps establish healthy habits at an early age,” she added. “For adults, we have seen how healthy eating can help reduce symptoms of hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. We are building relationships with our community and demonstrating that we are here for good.”

For information on any of the mobile programs, go to www.virtua.org.

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