An annual celebration of National Health Care Week at Metropolitan Family Health Network (MFHN) in Jersey City on Aug. 13 had a surprise guest, John A. Bardis, assistant secretary for administration of Health and Human Services department. Bardis, former CEO of a private medical firm, was appointed to his position under Donald Trump, and is one of the most influential officials overseeing expected changes to health care.
Metropolitan operates three facilities in Hudson County: two in Jersey City, one in West New York. With state and federal funds, MFHN makes health services available at affordable rates to needy families in the area. It became the newest Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Hudson County in the fall of 2006.
The Assistant Secretary for Administration provides leadership for HHS departmental administration, including human resource policy, information technology, and departmental operations. The ASA also serves as the operating division head for the HHS Office of the Secretary.
In his brief speech before officials, health workers, and people who use the health center for services, Bardis gave an outline of the administration’s priorities for health care – but did not mention the existing Affordable Health Care Act (“Obamacare”) or its much-talked-about potential GOP replacement.
“Life expectancy has improved. And with modern technology advances, it will continue to improve.” – John A. Bardis
Bardis said Americans have seen significant improvement in health care in the last hundred years and in the overall health of the population.
“Life expectancy has improved,” he said. “And with modern technology advances, it will continue to improve.”
He said his department has three priorities: getting rid of opioid addiction, finding solutions for mental illness, and addressing childhood obesity.
“These are areas that we will attack,” he said.
Payne noted that opioid addiction seems to have sprung up as a major issue almost without noticed.
“This is a national crisis,” he said. “But we have been talking about it for more than 20 years.”
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said the city has addressed some of the issues being targeted by the federal government such as abating homelessness and providing affordable housing for veterans and senior citizens. “We have made progress over the last three years,” he said.
Health care before Obamacare
In the past, this event has served as a platform for promoting Obamacare by such public officials as U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, who did not attend this year’s events. Democratic Rep. Donald Payne Jr. did attend and said he supported federally-funded healthcare centers, calling them a vital resource.
In some ways, these centers located throughout the state and the nation have provided an Obamacare-like health safety net even before the passing of Obamacare legislation in 2010.
“We need to get the word out about these facilities,” Payne said.
There are 4,000 such facilities nationally and 131 in New Jersey.
MFHN held a week long event from Aug. 13 to 19 at its Garfield Avenue facility to showcase the comprehensive care these centers provide.
“Community health care centers are treasured assets in their communities,” said Cathleen D. Bennett, state commissioner of health. “They know their communities best, and that’s what makes them successful.”
National Health Center Week is a nationwide, annual program that recognizes the services and contributions of community, migrant, homeless and public housing health centers from coast to coast. The theme for this year’s celebration is, “Celebrating America’s Health Centers: The Key to Healthier Communities.”
The theme emphasized the diverse populations health centers serve, state officials said, which includes homeless, residents of public housing, migrant and seasonal agricultural workers, and children who might otherwise have difficulty accessing healthcare.
These centers are an outgrowth of the anti-poverty programs established in the 1960s, and according to state officials, they have provided care for millions of people in New Jersey since being established.
“By ensuring healthcare delivery in all 21 counties, our healthy centers help promote population health across rural and urban areas of New Jersey,” Bennett said.
Her department, she said, provides $30 million in the current state budget to support the care of uninsured and underinsured residents.
To find out more about the Jersey City office of MFHN, call Weekdays until 9 p.m. 201-478-5827, 201-478-5831 or 201-478-5832.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.