Healthcare crisis overwhelms health centers for the homeless

The Star-Ledger reported on March 23, 2008, that an “influx of patients stretch thin centers for undeserved.” The centers that they are referring to are a “network of 19 federally qualified health centers and 95 satellite sites in New Jersey, providing a safety net of care to the medically undeserved. These centers are located in high-density urban areas, as well as rural communities, in places like Burlington and Salem counties with a large, diverse population of minority residents.” According to the article “More than 1 million patient visits were made to these facilities last year by nearly 325,000 clients, including HIV/AIDS patients, the homeless and seasonal farmworkers. The number of uninsured patients also has jumped by 78 percent, reaching 146,000 last year, up from 82,000 in 2002.”

Clearly this increased demand will have a negative impact on health care for the most undeserved including the homeless.

To read the full article click here. The following is the first few paragraphs.

Influx of patients stretch thin centers for undeserved

Sunday, March 23, 2008 BY ANGELA STEWART, Star-Ledger Staff

When Lucy Galvez showed up for an appointment last week at her local health center in Newark she knew there would be a short wait before her son could see the doctor.

“Sometimes it’s a half-hour or so. But the center is very convenient for me and the service is good,” Galvez said through a Spanish interpreter. The mother of five was at the Broadway site of Newark Community Health Centers so her 14-year-old son, Esteban, could get his annual physical.

The center is part of a network of 19 federally qualified health centers and 95 satellite sites in New Jersey, providing a safety net of care to the medically undeserved. These centers are located in high-density urban areas, as well as rural communities, in places like Burlington and Salem counties with a large, diverse population of minority residents.

But many of these centers — there are also four mobile units — are reporting a significant increase in demand for services, raising questions about whether the system is being stretched to the limit.

Consider this: In the past 18 months, five acute-care hospitals have closed their doors in New Jersey, all the result of a complex set of financial problems, including what hospitals say is chronic under funding from government payers like Medicaid.

In Newark, Saint James Hospital in the city’s Ironbound section closed a little more than a week ago and Columbus Hospital in the city’s North Ward will be closing by June 1.

Other hospitals, including Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield and Greenville Hospital in Jersey City, also have announced plans to shut their doors.

“We’re dancing as quickly as we can to try and keep up with the demand, but we have capacity issues,” said Katherine Grant Davis, president and CEO of the New Jersey Primary Care Association, the group that oversees the health centers.

More than 1 million patient visits were made to these facilities last year by nearly 325,000 clients, including HIV/AIDS patients, the homeless and seasonal farmworkers. The number of uninsured patients also has jumped by 78 percent, reaching 146,000 last year, up from 82,000 in 2002.

The number of Medicaid patients — Esteban’s physical examination was paid by the program — also is steadily climbing.

The centers, which accept appointments and maintain some slots for walk-ins, offer comprehensive primary and preventive medical services, including family medicine, immunizations, dental care, prenatal care, cancer screening, laboratory and X-ray services and emergency care.

To read the full article click here.