Survey tracks kids’ health in Mercer County, N.J.

    A survey of health status and access to care is giving New Jersey child advocates new insights from their own back yard.

    The Public Health Management Corporation has surveyed Southeastern Pennsylvania families for years; this time researchers called residents in Mercer County, N.J.

    Trenton, the county seat as well as the state capital, is home to some of the poorest neighborhoods in Mercer. The survey suggests that Mercer’s income gap may be mirrored in the county’s health disparities.

    Researcher Nicole Dreisbach says children in Trenton are much more likely to visit the emergency room than other kids in Mercer.

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    Across the county, “40 percent of kids visited the emergency department because either the doctor’s office was closed or because it was a weekend or a holiday,” she said.

    Public health officials often track inappropriate ER visits as one measure of a community’s access to regular care.

    Just 20 percent of county respondents said their child visited the ER because the problem was too serious for the doctor’s office.

    The nonprofit Children’s Futures, which commissioned the survey, runs a program that matches new moms in Trenton with a nurse for home visits and education.

    In recent years, many doctors and clinics have extended their care hours, or added an after-hours call service for urgent problems, said Rachel Hanson, who supervises the Nurse Family Partnership.

    “Ten, 15 years ago, people just went to the emergency room because there wasn’t access,” Hanson said. “We try to teach the families that they actually get better care from their direct care provider, because that provider knows them and knows their child.”

    The survey showed that more than 90 percent of Mercer children have health insurance.

    Hanson says many of her clients are enrolled in Medicaid, but she says often–for teens especially–having insurance does not translate to regular, preventive visits to the pediatrician.

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