By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
BRIDGETON — When talking about the impressive growth of the CompleteCare Health Network over the past 50 years, longtime President J. Curtis Edwards immediately pivoted to his staff and board for its success.
Starting with just a volunteer staff serving migrant workers in 1973, CompleteCare has grown to one of the largest and respected community health networks in the state with 21 outlets and posts in various schools. The health network plays a vital need in South Jersey by providing services to the uninsured population of Cumberland, Gloucester and Cape May counties.
“None of our accomplishments that we’ve achieved here at CompleteCare are possible without our tireless and dedicated staff,” Edwards recently told Front Runner New Jersey about its 50th anniversary. “I make that clear. I’m the CEO but I work with the guidance of our board of directors. They are volunteers but they all give a lot of time to the mission of the organization.”
Today, under Edwards’ guidance CompleteCare Health continues to grow. All of its facilities are accredited by the Joint Commission and certified as Patient-Centered Medical Homes — the new gold standard in health care.
Services offered at these locations include primary medical, dental, pediatrics, OB/GYN, counseling and other specialties, all of which are administered by Board-Certified providers and connected through a robust Electronic Health Record system.
Many of CompleteCare services are also offered under one roof to make it easier for patients to access care. CompleteCare says it prides itself on its services being patient-centered, comprehensive, coordinated, accessible, high quality, safe and effective.
Edwards said one of the unique things about the board of directors is that 51% of the members have to use CompleteCare services. He said he believes that’s one of the things that makes the network stand out.
“That’s very unique and rare for a healthcare board or any entity,” Edwards said. “Most board members at other networks don’t use their services or don’t have to use it to be on our board. For us, it’s a requirement. I don’t think people know that.
“So when people come and use one of our sites, they know that the people who are making decisions are utilizing the services as well. We’ve had them bring things back to the board and say, ‘Hey, maybe this is something we can do better.’ We get this information because of the experience of some of our own board members.”
While Edwards has led CompleteCare since 2004, his connection to the organization has ties to its foundation. The Navy veteran was mentored by longtime community activist Gwendolyn “Gwen” Gould, who helped found the organization.
Gould, who died in 2018 at 86, helped build CompleteCare to what it is today while serving as 30-plus years on its board, more than 15 of those as chair. In 2016, CompleteCare named its first solely-owned building – its $7 million Vineland Health Campus at 785 W. Sherman Ave. site — after Gould.
Edwards said he thanks her for providing the vision to help CompleteCare become the agency that it is.
“She was our fearless leader at the time on the board,” Edwards said. “She was an activist and basically was the person who was very instrumental in hiring me as the CEO at the time.”
Arthur Horn, of Rowan College of South Jersey and vice chair of the CompleteCare board, said Edwards has continued that vision of making sure that everyone gets the life-saving healthcare they need regardless of their ability to pay.
“As far as Curtis, through his leadership, we have been able go through this expansion but more importantly he has been able to cultivate this culture of professionalism,” Horn said, the founder of Breaking the Bondage LLC. “I think CompleteCare is a cultural community within a community even though we’ve gotten bigger, and that’s hard to do.”
Who’s Who at CompleteCare
President and CEO: J. Curtis Edwards
Chief Medical Officer: Dr. Azizeh J. Salloum
Executive VP Business and Operations: Richard Ewell
VP Community Services, Infection Control Prevention: Meghan Spinelli
Board of Directors
Chairman: Jack Surrency
Vice Chair: Arthur Horn
Treasurer: Judge Demetrica Todd Ruiz
Secretary: Maria Laboy
Dr. Gladwyn Baptist
James Joseph Rambo
CompleteCare’s facilities are federally qualified for community-based healthcare networks and receive funds from the Health Resources and Services Administration Health Center Program. Visitors pay on a sliding scale based on income and the network sees Medicaid patients.
Never straying far from its roots, CompleteCare’s bilingual outreach workers frequently visit camps were migrants and seasonal workers stay and provide services to migrants connected to numerous industries.
CompleteCare has also established healthcare centers in Bridgeton, Cumberland Regional and Vineland high schools along with Broad Street Elementary in Bridgeton and Downe Township Schools.
For Edwards, his time at CompleteCare has been a perfect fit for his own personal interest in making Cumberland County and the region the best and healthiest it can be. As CompleteCare shares its 50th anniversary, Edwards is approaching his own anniversary of 20 years with the network.
A graduate of Rowan University who served in the U.S. Navy, Edwards joined CompleteCare in 2004 as part of a Robert Wood Johnson project to bring community leaders together around prevailing healthcare issues.
After the project, Edwards stayed on, rising through the ranks to the role of executive vice president in 2012 and then president and CEO of the network in 2015. As the son of Bridgeton local business and community icon, the late James “Big Jim” Edwards and mother Evangelina, a longtime nurse, Edwards said he found CompleteCare to be the right mix of community and healthcare for him.
“Once I got into CompleteCare, I had so many different jobs and responsibilities throughout my career,” Edwards said. “Because I love the work that we did here and, in the community, I have to give thanks to Big Jim Edwards and my mom. My brother Todd Edwards has always been a big pillar in the community that believes in giving back. I saw that all the time growing up and how much int meant to people.
“CompleteCare is here for everybody. I think that’s what propelled me to stay and 20 years later, guess what, I’m still here. But I tell people we have a lot more work to do. We’re a good organization, but I want to be a great organization I’m here to do to what it takes to make us one of the greatest organizations that has ever stepped foot on Earth.”
In the community, Edwards also sits on the Bridgeton City Council and is a former school board member. His brother, Richard Todd Edwards, also a former local school board member, plays a behind-the-scenes role in local politics as the active political action chair of the New Jersey NAACP State Conference.
Edwards said beyond the annual CompleteCare Gala, one of the organization’s major fundraisers, there will be no special programming celebrating its milestone. He said, though, he believes the organization’s continued work in providing high-quality care to the neediest members of the community is probably the best way to celebrate a half-century of providing critical services in Cumberland, Gloucester and Cape May counties.
“We’ve grown from two healthcare centers to 21 and from serving 10,000 to 60,000 people.” Edwards said. “One of the best things about us is that we’ve provided uninterrupted services to people who most need us for 50 years. We can celebrate that by doing it for another 50 years.”
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