VCU plans expansion to East End with focus on improving public health

Hannah Eason

Contributing Writer

A health education and wellness center aiming to improve public health in Richmond’s East End will open in March, according to a VCU Public Affairs press release.

Working alongside VCU Health, East End community leaders and residents, former health official Natalie Pennywell will coordinate health and wellness programs as director of VCU Health Hub at 25th.

“Our vision for VCU Health Hub is to become a trusted resource for preventative care and wellness in the greater East End community,” Pennywell said in the press release. “VCU Health Hub is built around listening and adapting to community needs, so our services will evolve as the needs of the community change.”

The center aims to provide health education and care for preventable diseases — including health screenings, nutrition counseling, behavioral health support, chronic disease management and health education.

“This is an amazing opportunity to build a supportive, sustainable and impactful community health model that incorporates community, university and health system voices at every level,” said Pennywell, who previously worked for the Virginia Department of Health.

VCU Health Hub — which will open at the intersection of Nine Mile Road and North 25th Street — is a part of a larger redevelopment, which includes apartments and “The Market @ 25th” grocery store. Also opening in March 2019, the grocery store will work in collaboration with the health center to encourage patients to select healthy food.

Pennywell said the health center’s work will only prove successful if VCU “effectively [matches its] available tools and resources with the East End area’s health priorities and educational needs.”

“Unfortunately, there are still too many East End residents dying too early and too often from preventable or treatable health conditions,” said Richmond Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille in the press release. “Such tragic outcomes will be significantly reduced, with many lives improved and saved as a result of VCU establishing the VCU Health Hub at 25th in the heart of the East End community.”

In conjunction with the university’s Center for Urban Communities and Office of Health Innovation, VCU Health Hub not only hopes to provide health services, but also a valuable space for the East End community. The plan forecasts 5,600 square feet of student and faculty areas, health education spaces and consultation rooms.

“According to the county health rankings model, clinical care is only responsible for 20 percent of health outcomes,” said Sheryl Garland, chief of health impact at VCU Health, in the press release. “Working alongside our community partners, the Health Hub will play a significant role in increasing education and awareness around many of the health conditions that are prevalent in residents in the East End, and how we can prevent them.”

Riqia Taylor, VCU senior and member of the City of Richmond Human Rights Commission, said that, as an involved member of the community, she would like to know what students can look forward to as far as being more educated about the Health Hub.

“I look forward to learning more about what it is about and how it will impact the community,” Taylor said. “I have questions about who it will engage and who it will be accessible to, so I hope the university plans on having those conversations —  and pulling VCU students and the community into the conversation so that we can be in the loop.”

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