Virtua Pediatric Mobile Services is here for GOOD! – Maria Emerson, Director of Rehab Services

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Virtua’s Pediatric Mobile Services program has been making a significant impact on children’s health in underserved communities across Southern Jersey, particularly in my school district of Camden since 2018. The program provides essential health services to children from infancy to age 6, addressing critical needs and health disparities. In Camden, the need for such services is stark, with 14% of children tested showing elevated blood lead levels, far exceeding the national average of 2.5%. This alarming statistic underscores the importance of the program’s comprehensive services, which include lead testing, developmental screenings, dental care, vaccinations, and physical exams.

Since its inception, the program has served over 14,000 children and provided more than 20,000 patient visits, demonstrating its substantial reach and impact. The mobile units offer various services regardless of a family’s circumstances, extending care to homeless and undocumented individuals. This inclusive approach ensures that vulnerable populations have access to crucial healthcare services.

In response to overwhelming demand, Virtua expanded the program in June 2024 with a second mobile unit, made possible by a generous $1 million donation from the Joseph Lacroce Foundation. This expansion has increased the program’s capacity by 70%, allowing it to serve approximately 10,000 children annually, up from 6,000. The program now operates six days a week and can visit two sites per day, significantly extending its reach.

The Pediatric Mobile Services program takes a holistic approach to healthcare, going beyond clinical services. About 25% of children served are referred for additional care, including developmental services, dental care, and vision care. The program also provides non-clinical support such as diapers, formula, books, and clothing and health education for both children and parents. To overcome language barriers, the staff includes bilingual speakers of Spanish and Portuguese.

By providing early detection and intervention for issues like lead exposure, developmental delays, and other health concerns, Virtua’s Pediatric Mobile Services program aims to prevent long-term health complications and support healthy child development in underserved communities. This initiative demonstrates Virtua Health’s commitment to addressing health disparities and providing essential services to communities facing barriers to healthcare access, making a lasting impact on the health and well-being of South Jersey’s children.

Here is a video highlighting the launch of Virtua’s newest addition to their mobile health fleet. 

I was honored to speak at the community event celebrating the expansion of mobile services for our children! Here is what I shared:

​​A fearful 4-year-old preschool student was escorted onto the van, but she was not happy. She reluctantly climbed up the steps and was immediately welcomed with warm, enthusiastic smiles and a lot of bubbles! The healthcare team asked her if she wanted to count how many bubbles she could pop, and as her jacket was removed, she was handed a “magic wand”. I heard the counting and cheers, 1,2,3, “Great job” 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…” You did it,” 9, 10, 11, 12…” All done!” And just like magic the little girl had a positive healthcare experience, received an important flu shot, and was ready to go back to school.

Imagine something as simple as popping bubbles with a magic wand that could make a child’s fear of shots disappear. It might sound far-fetched, but it’s true. The Virtua Pediatric Mobile Services team has created a safe space where even the most anxious child can feel at ease with a healthcare provider. 

In my role as a Camden City preschool nurse, I know the amazing impact of this initiative, and I rely on the services available throughout the school year.  Since day one, when the first van hit the streets, Camden City schools have benefited from bringing Virtua Pediatric Mobile Services to our preschoolers and beyond. Whenever I have asked “Can the van do…,” Maria Emerson and the Pediatric Mobile team find a way, with a smile and the resources of Virtua behind them. 

In neighborhoods like mine, where barriers such as poverty, language differences, and a complex healthcare system can be overwhelming, accessing quality care can feel like an uphill battle. But when that van pulls up to our school, all those obstacles vanish for my students and their families as if by magic. 

One example of how Virtua Pediatric Mobile Services helped our youngest students stands out to me due to the urgency and the numbers. New Jersey preschoolers must have a flu shot every year by December 31st or they cannot return to school after winter break.  In my district that is approximately 2000 preschoolers. Imagine coordinating care for that many students. Virtua Pediatric Mobile Services jumped into action and made the flu shot initiative a priority so that we could minimize the number of students excluded from school.  It’s hard to believe that one van could be in so many places all at once, but they did and have been doing it for years. The number of lost school days, lost work days, and lost instructional time saved by providing this service on-site is hard to calculate. There are families behind those numbers and many school nurses, like me, are grateful to have accessible public health services in a city that is sometimes overlooked and discounted.

The families I serve in Camden City, like all families, want the best for their kids, and this initiative brings healthcare directly to the community. Parents no longer juggle work schedules or navigate confusing bureaucracy to get their children the care they need. Instead, that care comes straight to them, delivered with compassion and expertise. 

Today, we celebrate the arrival of another van, and my heart is filled with pride and gratitude. The expansion of Virtua Pediatric Mobile Services is a testament to Virtua’s steadfast commitment to ensuring that every child, regardless of their circumstances, can access top-notch healthcare.

Looking back on the impact Virtua’s Pediatric Mobile Services team has made these last six years, I’m flooded with memories of countless smiles and relieved sighs from both kids and parents. That magic wand might seem like a simple prop, but its ability to dispel fears and create positive healthcare experiences is nothing short of miraculous. And to top it off, every visit ends with a soft stuffed animal to hug.

On behalf of the students and families I serve, thank you to all of you here today for your part in making this important resource available for our community. 



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