RED BANK — A billboard on Oakland Street offers a public word of thanks to the volunteers and donors who have made it possible for the Parker Family Health Center to provide care for those without medical insurance for the past 11 years.
Eugene Cheslock, M.D., founder and president of the board of trustees of the health facility at 211 Shrewsbury Avenue, said that the billboard and another that will be placed on Shrewsbury Avenue later this month, was done “in the spirit of the season and the spirit of who we are,” to recognize the dedication of those who established the facility and continue to support its mission. It’s a sincere thank you to the folks who are “Slugging it out here daily,” Cheslock said, in a time when the center is encountering a growing demand for its services.
The Parker Family Health Center was established to provide quality health care for the uninsured and the working poor in this and surrounding communities. The center is named in honor of father and son family physicians who served the borough’s west side for the better part of the 20th Century.
In the spirit of the Parker family, more than 50 doctors volunteer their services, and another 250 medical and paramedical professionals—such as nurses, pharmacists—offer their work, without thought to compensation, as well the contributions of private donors (along with some grants), and the efforts of its 17-member full-and part-time staff, who keep the facility afloat.
The Center was able to post their public thank you due to the generosity of the CBS Outdoor company, which provided the billboard space at no charge.
As 2011 moves into 2012, the Center is experiencing record demand for its services, with more than 100,000 visits by more than 10,000 patients this year.
When the center opened its doors more than a decade ago, the majority of its patients were Hispanic — recent immigrants who were treated without regard to immigration status.
“A lot of our folks are what you call the working poor,” Carman explained. “A good portion of our people are hard working people who, at the end of the day, there isn’t any money left for health coverage.”
Today, however, “The demography is changing,” Cheslock said. The majority of patients being treated at the center are American citizens who have lost jobs, and therefore, health insurance.
That, Cheslock said, is “A reflection of our times.”
The doctors say they’re also dealing with increasing “complexity of care — treating patients with chronic conditions, including more than 300 with diabetes, who must take medication regularly and require frequent follow-ups to prevent or forestall complications.
In the past, Cheslock said, there was sometimes a “backlash” against the facility from those who criticized the fact that it was treating undocumented aliens.
“These are people with needs,” and needs that aren’t addressed here at the facility will have to be met later, with more complicated and expensive treatment,” Carman said
Hospital emergency departments are required by law to treat emergency conditions. For the indigent and uninsured, that cost is underwritten by hospital charity care, which is ultimately subsidized by the taxpayers, Carman explained. And that, he said, amounts to “10 times the cost,” than addressing the condition much sooner here at the facility. “The message is pay now or pay later,” he said.
The center already spends about $100,000 for prescription medications (though they do receive some assistance from the large pharmaceutical firms, “After much paperwork,” Cheslock said), which is taxing to the facility’s approximately $1 million annual budget.
The Parker Family Health Center, as it faces growing demand, could use more volunteers from the medical profession.
Carman suggested state lawmakers provide some incentive, such as a tax deduction for malpractice insurance costs, or other motivators, to encourage doctors to give of their time.
Cheslock, a retired oncologist, and Carman, a retired gastroenterologist, talked of when they were young practicing physicians. “We grew up in a time when taking care of people for nothing was expected,” Cheslock remembered. They believe doctors would continue to do so, if the health care system was designed to accommodate it.“ I still believe there is a flicker of idealism, a desire to give back,” he said.