Located in East Orange, New Jersey, the Smith Center for Infectious Diseases and Urban Health was founded based on the critical need to address infectious diseases in the inner city. Initially their main mission focused on containing the spread of HIV.

But the organization quickly realized the importance of broadening its scope, recognizing that inner city patients face many unique challenges in their daily lives that significantly interfere with the proper treatment of many infectious diseases. The influence of poverty and lack of knowledge work hand in hand in this community, fostering an environment where infectious diseases are easily spread. This is especially frustrating because successful treatment could have a significant impact on reducing the transmission to others and drastically increasing the opportunities for healthier lives for everyone.

Despite all the latest advances, the number of new HIV cases per year in New Jersey has stayed the same for the past decade! 

  • The drugs are easier to take and extremely effective.
  • Inner city HIV patients in New Jersey have excellent access to physicians and clinics. 
  • The state provides free medications to those without insurance. 

What’s unique at Smith Center?

While there have been significant developments –the disease continued unabated. That’s when the Smith Center decided to try an entirely new approach. The Center studied the way infectious disease spreads in an inner city culture and found new and profound ways to change behavior among those infected.

They are accomplishing this awesome goal by providing each patient with an individualized care plan.  This includes assistance with referrals to outside medical specialists, referrals for housing assistance, referrals to substance abuse treatment, applications for New Jersey’s free drug assistance program (A.D.D.P.), applications for other government entitlements including many more. To really make a difference, they:

  1. Have created a personal atmosphere, where each patient is known by her or his first name and they offer programs to incentivize all patients to continue their medications.
  2. Work with their patients to ensure that they understand the obstacles urban patients face – such as transportation obstacles - and help the patients overcome them- by offering bus passes and other accommodations. This unique attitude also mandates convenient access to medical care, such as providing laboratory services on site for easy access to blood work and other testing.
  3. Have developed a strong collaborative approach between healthcare providers and patients, to ensure they are providing the best service possible.
  4. Have a board certified Psychiatrist on staff who provides onsite initial and follow up psychiatry evaluation and management.
  5. Have created a seamless system for excellent continuity of care by installing a state of the art electrical medical records process.
  6. Educate and empower their patients, explaining exactly what is going on with each individual’s medical status. 
  7. Encourage medication adherence by hosting two reward programs. The first is called Drug Adherence Saves Lives (D.A.S.L.).  Through D.A.S.L. they reward patients with excellent adherence, as defined by an undetectable viral load, with a $25 food store gift card.  The second program, Screening Tests to Avoid Major Problems (S.T.A.M.P.), rewards each patient with an annual reward of $100 grocery card if all screening tests are performed.

The staff at The Smith Center for infectious disease is dedicated to implementing an innovative approach to eradicating infectious diseases in the most challenging and vulnerable communities. And their efforts are having a strong and positive impact. Here is what one of their patient’s wrote:

“My name is Clyde Parker and I’m HIV positive. I’m writing this letter to express my heartfelt gratitude to the staff of the Smith Center for giving me exceptional medical and psychiatric care in the face of a long list of debilitating illnesses (cancer, heart disease, intestinal bleeding, lung nodules, anemia, etc.) Now in the place of fear and bleakness I’m living a productive life through the care and services of the Smith Center. Again, thank you.”

~ Clyde Parker

Pivoting when necessary

To remain relevant in any circumstance requires the Center to adopt, innovate and re-position as new infectious diseases appear on the horizon or as changes take place and new trends emerge within existing diseases.

Such was the situation they faced when the global pandemic found its way to the United States. In response, the Smith Center launched a COVID testing group, Swab Mob.  Starting in April they provided COVID testing to about 7,000 people in Essex County.  Under the umbrella of the Smith Center, Stephen Smith and his friends tested furloughed young adults and college students at no charge, avoiding unnecessary and discouraging red tape by bringing the testing right to them.  They did this by establishing their testing in nearby convenient parking lots.  The intent was to provide contact tracing when positive test results were detected.  They were gratified to report that they only had 30 positives throughout the four months from their start up in April to July when they shut down.   This unique program enabled young adults to have a purpose and gave them a sense of importance as they provided a community service. It was a very rewarding experience for everyone. More details can be found here

To learn more about The Smith Center, please visit their website.