In elementary school, Christina Feggans-Langston remembers abandoning the bus stop outside her house for the one three blocks away in Charlottesville’s Westhaven public housing complex. The swap made sense: Her friends were there, it was livelier, more fun, and always encircled by a protective layer of grownups and extended family members she knew well.
Today, as she returns to Westhaven as the community’s new clinic nurse and a clinical instructor at the University of Virginia School of Nursing, the place still feels like home.
“This community is a hidden gem,” Feggans-Langston said of the 60-year-old community. “There’s so much talent here, so much history, so many stories. I’m glad to be back.”
Feggans-Langston’s return comes after a circuitous journey of her own.
She first attended college planning to be a teacher, but found herself at odds with educational staples like the Standards of Learning tests. After becoming a certified medical assistant, she was inspired by the nurses around her to return to school for a third time to earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing, followed by a master’s. Since then, she’s cared for patients at UVA’s Transplant Clinic and, later on, at its Infectious Diseases Clinic.
During those years, she loved it when she ran into old friends, their parents and grandparents, many of whom still lived in Westhaven, just a few blocks away from Grounds. So, when a job opened for a clinic nurse there, Feggans-Langston leapt again.
“I grew up three blocks away,” she said. “To me, this position isn’t just about having a body in a position. It’s having someone who looks like you and truly knows and is comfortable with this community. I’ve come full circle.”
Top of mind in her new role, as she reconnects with old friends and mentors nursing students as a clinical instructor during their community and public health clinical rotations, is ensuring the clinic operates in a trustworthy and transparent fashion. That it feels safe, confidential, useful and warm.
In her health promotion and primary prevention work, Feggans-Langston, along with clinic coordinator colleague Shelly Bryant, visits patients’ homes and completes nursing assessments. They offer rides to medical appointments and help with prescriptions. They provide supplies like condoms, toilet paper, grocery cards and diapers. And they extend the offer of warm company and good conversation to those who stop by the clinic.
It’s work that, according to Feggans-Langston, hearkens back to the efforts of Black public health nurses throughout history.
With Bryant and community partners from Charlottesville’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the Public Housing Association of Residents and the City of Promise, among others, Feggans-Langston hopes to expand clinic services, too. She envisions offering sports physicals for school children, support groups for new mothers and assistance for neighbors with mental health needs. She hopes to offer testing for HIV and hepatitis-C, provide vaccines and teach first aid. And she imagines helping residents with meal planning.
“Nursing assessments aren’t always physical,” Feggans-Langston said. “If it’s a general assessment outside of a physical ailment, I’ll ask, ‘How are your meals? Are you warm enough? Any trouble paying for medications? Is there anything outside your health that’s bothering you?’”
Navigating health issues on top of work and home life can be tricky, Feggans-Langston acknowledged, “like putting together pieces of a puzzle.”
It’s why, as she reconnects with old friends, Feggans-Langston—mother to two teenage boys—reminds Westhaven residents, “I’m here. I want to be a resource. My door is always open. I’m telling everybody, ‘Please, just come.’”