Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 5
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
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UMDNJ Report Identifies Health Needs in Preparation for Town-Wide Survey

Matthew Hersh

Health concerns and risks posed to Princeton children, adults, seniors, and Princeton University students were outlined in a report released this month, as municipal health officials plan for a town-wide survey assessing resident concerns related to health and health care.

The study, conducted by the school of Public Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, represents the first step taken by the Princeton Regional Health Department in collecting community feedback as part of a formal dialogue.

The first phase centered around “key informants,” including the Princeton Regional Schools; Princeton University; municipal officials; Princeton HealthCare System; various non-profit groups like HiTOPS, Corner House, and Princeton Senior Resource Center; both Borough and Township police departments; Latino organizations; and religious and faith-based groups. Twenty-five interviews in all were conducted.

While Princeton was recognized for its positive assets, like Princeton University and Princeton HealthCare System, the report indicates that several informants suggested that some residents did not have as much access as others, particularly immigrants, non-English speakers, and residents belonging to minority groups. Further, the reports says, immigrants in the country illegally tend to be wary of soliciting the area’s health care facilities, for fear of being reported to federal immigration agencies.

While the charity care clinic at the hospital was identified as a positive asset for helping uninsured patients sign up for Medicaid and charity care, there was concern expressed over what would happen when the University Medical Center at Princeton relocates to Plainsboro. In order to acquire relocation approvals from the state, however, the hospital agreed to assemble a transportation component to the new facility, as well as providing an information center in town.

Available access to in-town amenities was also a central theme in the report, with study participants listing seniors and Latino residents as having limited means of transportation. Other concerns were associated with driving, poor nutrition, lack of physical movement outside the home, and cluttered living conditions.

Concerning the growing Hispanic community, the study pointed to mental health issues as related to concerns on health care and immigration. One informant, who remained anonymous, said “undocumented immigrants live in constant fear of being reported,” and that children of immigrants “are not able to function like other children,” leading to “feelings of inferiority and mental health problems.” Reproductive health within the Hispanic community was also of particular concern, namely a woman’s access to birth control.

Substance abuse and alcohol use among adolescents and other “risk taking behaviors” were outlined in the report, as well as problems stemming from unprotected sex, and gang membership. As was the case in several of the core groups, stress was cited as an increasing concern among adolescents.

In regard to the issue of stress, the report indicates that those participating in the study were worried by a perceived lack of outreach in the mental health community. “There are existing services available,” one of the report’s informants said, “but there needs to be greater outreach to the community and additional services are required.”

Several participants called for a teen health center, similar to the Princeton Senior Resource Center, the report said.

The initial phase of the needs assessment study was designed to frame the larger, community phase, said municipal health officer David Henry. “We want to figure out how to meet those needs and prioritize those needs,” he said, adding that a community-wide survey would be mailed out to every Borough and Township residence as early as the summer. Mr. Henry said that the Health Department would likely partner with the Princeton Public Library in helping to distribute the survey. “We need to make sure that we hear from our residents about what their public health needs are,” he said.

For now, preliminary surveys will be distributed to members of both Princeton governing bodies. Once the community survey is complete, a strategic plan will result, Mr. Henry said.

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