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VCU Health Hub: Coming to 25th St Development in East End

02/20/2019 6:00 AM by

CHPN Speaks with Natalie Pennywell, Director of the new VCU Health Hub

Natalie Pennywell has always loved science, health, and health policy. She has a deep commitment to making sure communities have a voice regarding what happens in their lives. Pennywell joined VCU from the Virginia Department of Health where she led community outreach efforts for the Division of Community Nutrition across the state. “Virginia is like five states in one and I love the complexity and the difference and the nuances throughout this state and its cities. In Richmond, you can find yourself in a unique place with different cultural backgrounds and perspectives. It is a wonderful and beautiful thing.”

Her current job brings her to the East End to lead VCU Health Hub at 25th, a 5,600-square-foot facility slated to open in March 2019. Located at the intersection of Nine Mile Road and North 25th Street, the facility is part of a larger development that includes The Market at 25th, The Kitchen at Reynolds, and several new apartments and restaurants. Planned Parenthood is also slated to open sometime this year close by in a yet undisclosed location.  Interdisciplinary teams of VCU faculty and students will offer programs including: health screenings, nutrition counseling, behavioral health support, chronic disease management and health education.1

To accomplish this task, the hub will work with community venues and existing programs to host additional events in the center. The Robinson Theater and Sarah Garland Jones Center, for example, offer physical activity classes 5 days a week. The VCU Health Hub would work with these organizations to enhance what they’re already offering to the community and, if needed, offer additional classes on days where people may not be able to make it to either venue.

“It is (about) making sure that we collaborate” says Pennywell, “So that our community residents really get what they need and not necessarily host a slew of programs offered in a space that may or may not compliment the things that our residents and our community-based partners are doing.”

“The Robinson is excited to see investment in to the community” says Betsy Hart, the Executive Director of the Robinson Theater. “We respect the decision of VCU to look to long-time residents and others who have established relationships within this historic neighborhood to get a clear picture of needs and desires. The collective approach to use resources and expertise from various entities will be the best testament of community collaboration. It’s a puzzle that will come together in time as we engage and stay tuned-in to each other’s efforts and work against duplicity. The beauty of Church Hill is that there is no one-stop-shop, but yet, a partnership within to work together for the bigger picture.”

There is a growing pressure to provide high quality, patient centered, cost effective healthcare. The reality of the current healthcare market and its high costs is a subject that permeates our culture through political messaging, economic discussions, and actual health outcomes. Middle class Americans are healthier than those living in or near poverty, but they are less healthy than the upper class. Income is a driving force behind the striking health disparities that many minorities experience. If you’re not convinced, look at the table below. In it, you’ll see how income has a direct effect on the prevalence of diseases.

How do you solve a problem like income disparity as it relates to health outcomes? How do we provide better health outcomes for East End residents?

Pennywell responded;

Fundamentally, The Center is looking at how we can be more inter-professional and inter-disciplinary. When we approach our residents, and how they approach their health and wellbeing, how can we be more intentional about the way in which we offer resources and tools? How can we be more intentional about how we partner and how we communicate with other community-based organizations, agencies, small businesses, and faith-based organizations; so that when we offer them a resource, we also have the buy-in and we have the knowledge to connect them to resources that are outside VCU.

The space will have a series of different rooms split into three different areas with a door that directly connects with The Market at 25th. “The Market at 25th is excited to join with partners like the VCU Health Hub as we create dynamic, engaging, and educational programming around community health,” states Kristen Spaulding Rabourdin, Director of Marketing for The Market at 25th. “The goal of this collaborative approach is to not only highlight the connection between healthy food and overall wellness, but to support our neighbors as they take steps towards a healthier lifestyle.”

While all this change and development is exciting, it is important that you as a community resident use your voice to provide feedback now and throughout the life of the center. VCU has been at the heart of the city for decades and it is only through a personal investment from a philanthropist that this resource was created.

Pennywell welcomes your feedback:

I don’t care what that feedback looks like, and I think we can’t get to a place of commonality and understanding until I have it. I often tell residents and I tell community-based organizations: Don’t hesitate to reach out. Don’t sit on a concern. Don’t sit on an angst and don’t sit on something that is truly bothering you, you know, when it’s something that can be addressed, and if it can’t be addressed, once we pull all those concerns together we can find some way in which to at least acknowledge that it exists and try to go to a path towards maybe not fixing but having open dialogue about how we can get to a common place.

The VCU Health Hub at 25th is slated to open March 2019.    


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