понедельник, 8 октября 2012 г.

LOCAL ISSUE: ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE IMPROVES - The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


LINDY WASHBURN; MARY JO LAYTON E-mail: washburn@northjersey.com
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
11-14-2010
LOCAL ISSUE: ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE IMPROVES
Byline: LINDY WASHBURN; MARY JO LAYTON E-mail: washburn@northjersey.com
Section: LOCAL
Type: News

Federal stimulus spending may not have been popular in some political circles this year, but the extra money expanded care for tens of thousands of low-income patients in North Jersey.

A Hackensack clinic added Saturday hours as well as a woman's health provider and a pediatrician to the practice at East Salem Street.
A doctor was hired to ease long waits at a health center on Midland Avenue in Garfield.

And a clinic on Eighth Street in Passaic added an internist five days a week to provide treatment for adults. The center previously offered pediatrics and women's health care.

Overall, nine clinics operated by the North Hudson Community Action Corp. in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties received $3.4 million in federal stimulus funding. The money helped to expand care and upgrade facilities that provide care for the uninsured as well as patients with public insurance who often have trouble finding a physician who accepts their plan.

Christopher F. Irizarry, North Hudson's president and CEO, said the centers cut overall treatment costs because clinics are less expensive to operate than emergency rooms, where many of these patients would otherwise end up. Emergency room visits cost on average $550 -- and taxpayers cover many of the costs for the uninsured and indigent. Yet Federally Qualified Health Centers, like those run by his group, provide treatment at a cost of $140 on average, Irizarry said.

'It's not just helping patients,' Irizarry said. 'People don't realize it, but it's been a lifesaver for taxpayers. We're really part of the solution.'

New Jersey now has 104 health center sites, located in every county except Hunterdon and Somerset. That includes eight 40-foot vans, like one in Paterson that takes dental services to city schools and day-care centers. 'We've been doing ribbon cuttings all over the state,' said Kathy Grant-Davis, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Primary Care Association.

In all, these centers in New Jersey received nearly $50 million from the federal Department of Health and Human Services in stimulus funds. And last month, the federal government announced that centers can apply for $335 million more to boost access to primary care.

The Paterson Community Health Center received $1.2 million -- $891,000 to computerize medical records and clinic operations and $306,000 to hire a doctor and increase the use of its facilities.

The center treated nearly 200 patients in a single day recently at its spacious new building near the Riverview Towers housing development and at a smaller site on Broadway. Some patients had public insurance coverage, others were uninsured.

'If you have no income, you will still receive care,' posters in its lobby said. 'You'll love the way we care for you.' A fixture in Paterson for 31 years, the center now cares for the grandchildren of some of its original patients.

Nationwide, community health centers are expected to be a centerpiece of the expansion of health coverage to an estimated 32 million people as a result of federal health care reform. The centers are expected to become the medical homes for most of the newly insured and to treat them in a way that will save money by catching problems early, managing chronic diseases and avoiding costly hospital stays.

The tough economy has led rising numbers of people to seek help at these centers. North Hudson, for instance, expects to log 260,000 patient visits by year's end, up from 240,000 last year.

'People are losing their jobs and they have no alternatives,' Irizarry said. In some cases, patients who find employment must work two jobs and six or seven days a week to keep up, which makes it hard to find time for medical care, he said.

But the centers need doctors. Despite buildings that have room for more patients, there aren't enough primary-care physicians -- especially those bilingual in English and Spanish -- to meet the need. A national shortage of primary care doctors has combined with the difficulty of recruiting physicians to work in under-served areas.

'It's very hard to find primary care providers,' said Grant- Davis. 'One health center is actively recruiting for two full-time physicians in an urban area, and having a hard time filling those jobs.

Mary Garner, the chief executive officer of the Paterson Community Health Center, has been advertising for doctors for two years. 'I need an internist for adult medicine,' she said. 'I really need that person to be fully bilingual, in English and Spanish. We have a lot of Spanish-speaking patients whose English is very limited, and it loses something in translation.' The center's current Spanish-speaking doctors are more than fully booked, she said. And a full-time doctor who had worked at the center recently relocated to Texas.

Nickie Quin, who was recently laid off from her job as a computer programmer, stopped by the Hackensack clinic Friday morning for follow-up treatment of an ovarian cyst. A local hospital had told her she'd have to wait a few weeks for an appointment. The condition has been painful in the past and Quin said she wanted to avoid emergency room treatment if her condition worsens.

Expanded hours at the clinic means patients have the opportunity to seek treatment Saturdays. 'Wow, that's great,' said Quin, a 34- year-old Wallington resident. 'Sometimes that's the only time I can get my kids to the doctor.'

At the pediatric department in the clinic, Dr. Jay Patel said he sees about 20 patients by appointment on Saturdays and treats an additional half-dozen walk-ins. On weekends, he routinely treats children for asthma flare-ups, vomiting and high fevers.

'If the clinic is closed, they would have to go the emergency room,' he said.

Pediatric nurse Joyce Pike said more parents are calling who are new to the clinic system because of unemployment and loss of insurance.

'They want to know how the system works,' she said. The uninsured pay on a sliding scale, with visits costing on average $20, she said. Vaccines are free, she said, a huge cost savings because some inoculations are $80.

'It really starts to add up,' she said.

E-mail: washburn@northjersey.com

Illustrations/Photos:
Caption: Dr. Jay Patel talking with a patient at North Hudson
Community Corp. in Hackensack.

2010