This means many of these people seek out the services of emergency rooms, statewide Charity Care, or do not seek medical assistance until their conditions are far worse than they might have been if they saw a doctor regularly.
While this 23 percent of uninsured in the county may see some relief with expanded Medicaid and other new federal programs, three Hudson County Hospitals – Bayonne Medical Center, Christ Hospital, and Hoboken University Medical Center – are taking matters into their own hands.
The network, Holdco, which bought all three entities in the last five years, is in the process of developing a healthcare system in Hudson County that will not have to rely on institutions beyond its boundaries.
They also have been operating free clinics for patients with no insurance. The patients receive free medical services and evaluations by physicians and nurse practitioners, as well as laboratory studies, imaging studies, and medications.
“While doing shifts in the Emergency Department, it was evident that many of the same patients would have repeated ER visits as well as readmissions,” said Dr. Mark Spektor, an ER physician and president and CEO of Bayonne Medical Center. “We felt that these patients were at risk due to their economic and insurance status. The current Medicaid expansion will not provide illegal immigrants with coverage, and this program will be essential for those individuals to gain access to healthcare. If given access to longitudinal, rather than episodic care, we felt these patients would maintain their health better, be more productive, and would require emergency care and acute hospitalizations at a lower rate.”
The clinics, which have been operating for several months, see more than 650 patients per month, and the volume of visits is growing. According to Dr. Spektor, preliminary data shows a 30-percent reduction in avoidable admissions and ER visits.
Dr. Virginia Witt is medical director of Christ Hospital Family Health Center. “The Family Health Center is a much-needed resource for the members of our community who cannot afford to pay for their healthcare needs,” she said.
The hospitals plan to expand the program to other locations. “We are serious about making this significant investment in population health management,” said Dr. Spektor. “We feel strongly that a healthier Hudson County will benefit everyone.”
Many patients swear by the free clinics. Luzmila Navarro has been living in Jersey City for 15 years and had never heard of a free clinic. “We have been to the clinic at least three times,” she said. “The staff is amazing and very courteous. The doctors are caring and take the time to listen to us. I have been telling all my neighbors who cannot afford to pay for their care to come visit this wonderful clinic.”
Audre Gaskin added, “The clinic has really been a blessing to me, and the staff was unbelievable.” Rogelio Bulanadi echoed that assessment, noting that the clinic had done an outstanding job of caring for his father.
Gregory Hampton sang the praises of the nurse practitioner at the clinic, while Daniel Canales was grateful that the clinic was close to his home.
“I have been to so-called free clinics before that were not free,” said Alicia Toribio. “This clinic has been a blessing for me, and my diabetes is managed very well.”
Patients can call (201) 418-2128 to schedule an appointment at one of the free clinics.
Future may have even more to offer
Now profitable for the first time under private ownership, these hospitals have played hardball with insurance companies to get reimbursement rates they can live with. Although the network has made some progress with a few insurance companies, its future plans include establishing its own insurance company.
Right now, the hospitals are not in network with several major insurers.
Paul Walker, executive director of Hoboken University Medical Center, said that since the network facilities are for-profit hospitals, they will rely less on public money and more on their ability to provide service.
“There are a lot of for-profit hospitals, but in an urban area, this has been unheard of,” Walker said.
The old model, he said, doesn’t work. When insurance companies were paying so little, and hospitals were desperate for cash to pay ongoing bills, no one was looking to the future.
The hospitals are also grooming their own network of doctors—medical-school graduates who will be part of long-term plans.
“In three to five years, we might be known as an insurance company that happens to own hospitals,” said Peter Kelly, executive director of Christ Hospital in Jersey City.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org