RED BANK, NJ - After almost a decade providing health care for Red Bank residents who can’t afford health insurance, the Parker Family Health Center is thriving and is helping other communities that are starting up free clinics of their own.
Dr. Eugene Cheslock, one of the principal forces in helping establish the clinic, said he is in the process of assisting a group in Florida setting up their own volunteer health center. Cheslock, who retired after practicing hematology and oncology for 25 years in Monmouth County, now serves as the president of the Parker Family Health Center.
According to the Volunteers in Medicine Alliance, (VIM) national headquarters in Vermont, there are two additional free clinics in New Jersey; Volunteers in Medicine of Cape May County, and the BVMI Healthcare Center in Hackensack.
Cheslock, who is going to speak at the last Sunday Morning Dialog program at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County on June 6, said, “I hope to take a little trip through our history, touch on the state and national movements, discuss our frustrations, needs, strong points and benefits to the community.”
The history of the Red Bank clinic began with an altruistic idea incubated over time with help from the national organization, members of the community who volunteered time and money, celebrities like Bon Jovi and local politicians. From its modest beginning in a borrowed trailer, the clinic opened with three uninsured patients on that first day. Today, the booming health clinic is located in an attractive building on Shrewsbury Avenue. The center operates solely on grants and is staffed by volunteer physicians and clinical staff who see approximately 10,000 patients a year.
“Our clinic is not funded by taxpayers and shows what we can accomplish on our own,” Cheslock said.
In July 2000 when the Parker Family Health Center opened, there were only six free clinics in the U.S., now there are 72. As Cheslock explained, “When we first opened our doors nine years ago, 95 percent of our patients were undocumented immigrants. Today, 60 percent of our patients are American citizens.”
The clinic is located at 211 Shrewsbury Ave., a location that is physically accessible to where the bulk of the population lives and is reachable by bus or train for other under-served communities. It opened in a donated trailer after two-and-a-half years of planning, preparing, lobbying and fund raising and has been serving the working poor and the uninsured in Red Bank and surrounding communities.
The Parker Family Free Clinic named for the father-and-son physician team who served the community for the better part of the 20th century, celebrated its 10 year anniversary with their first annual golf outing on May 17.
According to the national organization, 32 million uninsured will gain access to coverage in 2014 when the health care reform legislation fully kicks-in, but approximately 15 million will remain uninsured. That number includes undocumented resident who are excluded from purchasing health insurance coverage. In addition, over the next four years, with growing numbers of uninsured as well as escalating costs for health insurance and medical care, community safety-net clinics will continue to provide access to primary care. An additional problem is the growing primary care physician shortage because physicians are choosing more lucrative specialties.
The focus of the clinic’s services is on primary health care, emphasizing disease prevention, health promotion and patient education in an easily accessible facility that is open six days a week including two evenings and Saturday morning. Care is provided by a network of volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and many others who together donate 10,000 hours annually. They are supported by a small paid staff, Cheslock noted that a visit, including lab tests and prescription drugs, costs $80 on average, compared to $300 and up in emergency rooms for the visit alone.
Dr. Cheslock said establishing and running the clinic has been a marvelous adventure for everyone. “This is what medicine is all about—being able to share expertise, talent and abilities and helping those in need.”
Dr. Cheslock’s talk at the UUCMC starts at 9 a.m. in the Meetinghouse at 1475 West Front Street in Lincroft. Bagels and coffee will be available from 8:45 a.m. For directions, go to www.uucmc.org or call 732-747-0707.