Virtua 'doubles down' on Camden with new medical center

By Kim Mulford, January 23, 2019

CAMDEN - At Wednesday's grand opening ceremony at the new Virtua Health & Wellness Center - Camden, 57-year-old Jerome Martin was supposed to introduce himself to the crowd and pass along a lantern symbolizing light.

Instead, he spoke on his city's behalf.   

A longtime patient at Virtua's campus on Atlantic Avenue, Martin called the new $26 million medical center "a blessing" for Camden.

Built in a former parking lot, the new two-story building will offer primary and specialty care, dental services, physical therapy, rehabilitation and a behavioral health program, along with a food pantry for patients. The older, smaller center it replaces will be torn down. 

After suffering a cardiac emergency six years ago, Martin lost 160 pounds, cutting insulin and his medications down from 18 a day to just five with guidance from his medical team. He'll soon attend his primary care and podiatry appointments at the new center.

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"It is truly awesome for the City of Camden," Martin said, inside a community room where Virtua plans to hold group medical appointments and educational events. "I truly, truly thank you from the bottom of my heart, and my son thanks you ... he truly wants to be a doctor here." 

Five years in the making, the new center allows the health system to "double down" on its investment in the city, explained Virtua President and CEO Dennis W. Pullin. 

"I think it's our responsibility," Pullin said. "If we're talking about improving the health and well-being of residents in South Jersey, you can't exclude Camden. We have an opportunity to make a difference to those who are most vulnerable." 

Primary care doctors can write prescriptions for food and fresh produce, so patients can stock up at the center's pantry for free. Since patients can have difficulty traveling to distant specialty appointments, Virtua will rotate specialists at the site. Primary care appointments will be available until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. To address the city's pediatrician shortage, the center will offer same-day pediatric appointments. 

The new center is among the health system's first handful of primary care sites offering integrated behavioral health services, said Dr. John Matsinger, Virtua's executive vice president and chief clinical officer. A social worker will help patients find services, social and insurance programs. 

When patients are struggling with problems like depression, anxiety or addiction, Matsinger said, "we want it to look like every other part of health care ... I want you to be able to schedule an appointment within the same building with another member of the team."

Services at the center are supported through donations to the Virtua Foundation. The campus will continue to include the Virtua CASTLE children's behavioral health program and an emergency department, Virtua's third busiest. 

Kim Mulford: @CP_KimMulford; (856) 486-2448;