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14 Robert WoodJohnson
ike any institution, the tone is set at the top. In this case,
although she consistently downplays her influence, it
comes from Executive Director Sandra Hill. As she walks
past the 22 exam rooms, the dental suite, and waiting areas, Hill
greets janitors, doctors, nurses, and staff by name. She doesn't
need to squint at their name tags because Hill knows them all.
Gently yet firmly, Hill reprimands two children who mistake
the waiting room for a playground. Noticing a woman stand-
ing at a window looking lost, she stops to help. Hill doesn't tell
the woman who she is; instead, she simply finds someone to
speak Spanish with the patient and then moves on.
"I always tell the staff: `Treat people the way you want to be
treated,'" Hill says. "And just because you are treating the
most vulnerable or underserved doesn't mean less quality care.
A lot of times, people think a federally qualified health clinic is
`Herd them in and herd them out.' That is not true! HRSA [the
U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration] demands
quality care, and we provide that here."
Considering how many people come through these doors,
the staff is not huge. There are (in full-time equivalents) six
family physicians, one internist, one obstetrician/gynecologist,
two pediatricians, an HIV specialist, a part-time podiatrist, and
two nurse practitioners. Also on staff are 14 nurses, nine med-
ical technicians, six dentists, one dental hygienist, and seven
dental assistants. One social worker, two HIV case managers,
a nutritionist, a pharmacist, and a medical interpreter round
out the medical caregivers.
Coincidentally, the clinic and Hill have both been working in
public health for 30 years. The clinic's anniversary was in
October. Hill arrived a decade ago, after putting in 20 years at
the Veterans Administration (VA).
A life devoted to health care began when Hill volunteered as
a candy striper at East Orange General Hospital. "I loved it, with
a capital L," she says. "You name it, we had to do it--read mag-
azines to patients, or serve patients if a patient needed to be fed."
As a student at East Orange High School, living with her
parents--her mother was a home care nurse at the VA, and her
father was a longshoreman--Hill considered becoming a pedi-
atrician. From East Orange, she moved to Virginia, where, in
her freshman year at Hampton University, she forged what
would become lifelong friendships. These women have seen
one another through everything.
"I did not make a mistake going to Hampton," Hill says.
She isn't the sort to flaunt her degrees. Although most people
brag about their academic successes, Hill has to be cajoled to
reveal that she earned a bachelor of science degree in biology
and a master's degree in religious studies. She is a proud mem-
ber of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority as well as the Golden
Key International Honour Society.
Her abiding faith spurred an interest in other religions,
resulting in the master's degree. Embracing other faiths com-
pletely, Hill--a Baptist--enrolled her son, now a risk opera-
tions manager in Miami, in a Catholic school, Saint Benedict's
Preparatory School in Newark.
Combining her study of biology and lifelong interest in reli-
gion with 20 years in the trenches of medical administration
makes Hill uniquely suited for this post. "My parents would
always say, `Prepare for where you want to be,'" she says.
"After school, I applied for a job at the VA."
Hill worked in various administrative posts at the VA. Such
experience in a federal agency known for its bureaucracy helps
her in running Chandler. Where other clinics' executive direc-
tors have one boss, Chandler reports to the board and to the
senior associate dean for community health at Robert Wood
Johnson Medical School.
"Administrators in our environment are under-recognized for
the complexity they help navigate initiatives through," says Eric
G. Jahn, MD '88, associate professor of family medicine and
community health; chief, division of community health; and sen-
ior associate dean for community health. "Rutgers is huge. There
are lots of challenges in terms of getting our day-to-day tasks
done. And her ability to be diligent and carry Chandler through,
and help it thrive--that leadership is, to me, exceptional."
Like others who have been involved with the clinic for
decades, Dr. Jahn praised what Hill has brought to Chandler,
while acknowledging the work of her predecessors.
"Sandra built on a very strong foundation," Dr. Jahn says.
"But really, to me, in what is a very complex administrative envi-
ronment, she has motivated staff to have a very patient-centered
facility. That includes staff and faculty."
That inclusivity stems from her outlook and lifelong faith.
There's a genuine feeling that she is neither above nor below
anyone who crosses her path and that she truly cares about
people. "Because of my faith, there are certain principles that
help me in doing my job," she says. "I want, when staff or
patients see me, they see a person that is kind and compassion-
ate, and that aligns with my faith. I envision after I leave here,
I would like to do pastoral care."
Her empathy is apparent as she gives a tour of the clinic.
Nurse Michelle Hawkins-Nunn has worked there for 11
years, the last three as a registered nurse. She was inspired to
move on from being an administrative coordinator "because I
see the good work done here, and I want to help people. Once
my youngest son was out of school, it was time for me to go
back to school. I had a lot of encouragement," she says, looking
toward Hill.