How Two Community Leaders Partner for Better Health

Bishop Ronald Jones is a longtime friend of the Newark, NJ community, and is a frequent visitor of Aetna Better Health of New Jersey’s Healthcare Central store. Bishop Jones’ visits and appearances at our events might be paused due to COVID-19, but his community’s history and support are not.

When the lead-contaminated drinking water crisis gripped Newark, NJ, in the summer of 2019, Bishop Ronald Jones knew just who to call for support. A faith leader and advocate for low-income residents for over two decades, dozens of local politicians and community leaders readily answer his calls. But during this emergency, he reached out to Magdaliza “Lisa” Aviles, manager of Aetna’s Healthcare Central storefront. He asked if she could line up a truck to deliver cases of water to affected neighborhoods.

“She rolled up her sleeves, rented a truck, availed us of a driver, and brought it to three locations,” says Jones, fondly known as “the Bishop.” “She’s not only a friend; she’s also available when we need her. We need more Lisas.”

Since joining Aetna’s Healthcare Central last spring, Lisa’s mission has been to make the storefront more than just a place for people to learn about NJ FamilyCare benefits available through an Aetna Better Health of New Jersey plan. With programs such as monthly food giveaways and diabetes education classes, she’s transforming the space into a hub for anyone interested in leading a healthier life, including many from the Bishop’s congregation.

Be in Health
There’s room for improvement when it comes to the health of Newark’s residents. Compared to the rest of the state, people in Newark experience significantly higher blood pressure rates, diabetes, and chronic heart disease. According to data from the U.S. Census, 23% of residents have no health insurance. They also have no primary care doctor and end up heading to the emergency room when they have a health issue, the Bishop says. “If something isn’t bothering them at the moment, if it’s not right at their door, they’re not going to plan ahead and apply for health insurance,” he explains. “And then, when they do get sick, that’s when they run to the emergency room (ER).”

Many of the people the Bishop works with, including those struggling with chronic illnesses or addiction, need a lifeline that goes beyond a trip the ER. One of the most common complaints he hears is, “I’m tired. I need help,but I don’t have insurance.” “I mean, I hear this almost daily,” he says.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Bishop sees supporting his community’s health as part of his calling. “There’s a Bible verse that says, ‘Above all, I wish that you would prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers,’” he explains. For years, Bishop Jones had difficulty finding a reliable resource to refer community members. Then in the spring of 2018, he met Lisa.

Making Inroads in the Community
From the moment the Bishop was introduced to Lisa at a community health fair, he was struck by her ease with people. He also quickly realized that they shared the same goal: to help residents access health care and resources to live healthy lives. She began to invite her along to block parties and monthly interfaith meetings, where she made connections with other members of the clergy. In turn, those clergy invited her to speak about Aetna Better Health of New Jersey benefits at their houses of worship.

A newcomer to Newark, Lisa says her friendship with the Bishop has helped her make important inroads in the area. “You’re just coming into a community without knowing anyone. They don’t know how to perceive you,” she explains. “But because the Bishop accepts me, other people are interested in hearing what I have to say.”

Helping to improve a community’s health
Even with the Bishop’s support, becoming a trusted resource doesn’t happen overnight. To help nurture their relationship with the community, Lisa and her team regularly hold free health and wellness events at Healthcare Central, such as monthly food giveaways, healthy cooking demonstrations and health education classes.

“It’s not just about the health insurance,” Lisa says of the events. “At the end of the day, we hope they become an Aetna member. Nevertheless, primarily, we want to make sure that they have health insurance and are aware of the different organizations offering it. We’re here for anyone interested in learning how to live a healthier life.”

Having a consistent presence in the neighborhood also helps. During the contaminated drinking water crisis, for example, Lisa made a point to attend community meetings. That way, if someone came into the store asking questions, she’d be prepared to provide them with the right resources. “It’s important to know the community that you’re in and what is affecting them, so you know what to focus on to help them,” she says.

The extra effort is worth it. Lisa and the Bishop have both seen firsthand how residents can benefit from access to health care. “You can feed people, and the next day they’re hungry again. But if you give them an opportunity to get health care, they can be well,” the Bishop explains. “And when people are well, they can work.”

“You know,” he continues, “I’m always looking for people like Lisa, and she just dropped in my life. I thank God for her.”

Lisa smiles. “He’s definitely been a blessing in my life,” she says.

48A Jones St., Suite C-101, Newark, NJ 07103
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