By Michele J. Kuhn
RED BANK – The Parker Family Health Center has come a long way since its first day in 2000 in a donated double-wide trailer with three patients.
Now patients at the free clinic are seen in five examining rooms by one of 50 medical professionals, the majority of whom volunteer their time at the clinic’s sunny brick building at 211 Shrewsbury Ave. The organization’s staff expects the number of patient visits this year to total 12,000.
The growth has been steady over the years with “an explosion” of new patients in the past four years. The increase has especially occurred since the economic downturn began in 2008 and people have lost their jobs and health insurance, according to Mary J. Nicosia, a nurse practitioner who is the center’s director and clinical coordinator.
“We just grew… Little by little, we grew,” said Nicosia, who has been a staff member since the start.
Services focus on primary health care, health promotion and education and disease prevention. Patients can get physicals, immunizations, chronic illness management, vision screening, affordable prescription medication, social service referrals and women’s health care. The clinic has partnered with Riverview Medical Center and Jersey Shore Medical Center to ensure that hospital patients will be cared for once they are released from acute care.
Eighty percent of patients at the Parker Family Health Center are U.S. citizens, about 35 percent are Spanish-speaking and the majority are in their 20s to 60s. Patients must be uninsured Monmouth County residents who do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid and whose income level is less than 300 percent of the poverty level.
Pediatric care, which includes dental care, is also available for youngsters who do not qualify for New Jersey’s KidCare insurance program.
“I think everyone here knows that this facility is needed now more than ever,’’ she said.
Those who come to the clinic sign in as they would at any doctor’s office and wait in a bright waiting room filled with health-care literature and posters. The clerical staff’s office is lined with thousands of patient folders. An electronic medical records system is on the wish list of items the clinic would like to be able to afford.
In Nicosia’s small office is a large calendar where the more than 50 doctors, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, translators and other medical staff sign up to volunteer on specific days. The health center has an impressive range of specialists, many of whom are retired, who give their time and talent to see patients. There are also other professionals, including phlebotomists who draw blood for testing on Wednesdays.
Frequently those who come in for appointments have waited until the last minute to be seen by a doctor, Nicosia said. They are very sick, just about out of their medication or have stopped taking it for financial reasons and have nowhere else to go. Many have chronic illnesses, such as hypertension or diabetes, and need continuity of care. Many of the cases are of a complex nature. Nicosia often sees patients whose blood pressure is very high or whose blood sugar levels have eclipsed 300 or 400. “I’m surprised that they wait as long as they do (to come in for an appointment) after losing their insurance,” Nicosia said.
Without the clinic, “the people we see here, the more than 10,000 or so, would end up in emergency rooms” of area hospitals, said Dr. Roy Carman, the center’s medical director.
Among the challenges the organization faces, Carman said, is to get people in two diverse demographics to understand what the Parker Family Health Center does and how the clinic benefits the community. That means getting people who need the clinic for health care to come in for care and those who can offer the financial support necessary for it to operate see the value such donations mean for others.
“We want patients to know we are here for them but we also need people to know that we’re the ones taking care of the health needs of their hairdressers, their waiters, their landscapers, their cashiers,” Nicosia said. “Health insurance has become such a privilege.”
The clinic is run almost entirely on donations from the community. Malpractice insurance is funded through a Federal Tort Claims Act program and a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant has helped. However, the running of the clinic depends on private individuals, businesses, foundations and corporations for the vast majority of its nearly $1 million annual budget. The monetary shortfall this year is almost half the budget, Carman said.
The clinic is now working to partner with students in the school of business at Monmouth University to help with fundraising campaigns and to let the uninsured population in Monmouth County know that care is available at the clinic.
The idea for the clinic came about during the late 1990s when the much loved and respected Dr. James Parker Jr. was about to retire. Parker and his father, Dr. James Parker Sr. were known for the care they gave to residents of Red Bank’s West Side. Dr. Eugene Cheslock, the clinic’s board president, and members of the community came together and conducted a survey of residents. They found a significant number of those on the West Side were without insurance and that the need for such a clinic, named in honor of the doctors Parker, was there.
The health center’s first home, the trailer, initially was open a few nights a week with one doctor, Dr. John Movelle, Nicosia and two part-time employees. As the need grew, so did the hours and a fund-raising campaign for the new building also was begun. Jon and Dorothea Bon Jovi are credited with helping to make the center’s permanent home a reality through their fund-raising efforts. The building was dedicated in July 2003.
The clinic is now open six days a week: 1 to 7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays; 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays; and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
Additional information about the Parker Family Health Center is available by calling 732-212-0777 or by visiting www.parkerfamilyhealthcenter.org. Donations with checks made payable to Parker Family Health Center, can be mailed to the clinic at 211 Shrewsbury Ave., Red Bank, NJ 07701.