By Ron Leir
It was supposed to happen April 1 but now the sponsors are predicting that the long anticipated Harrison Health Center will open no later than year’s end.
Under a plan initially pitched by the late Mayor Raymond McDonough, the North Hudson Community Action Corp. (NHCAC) will be operating a “Federally Qualified Health Center,” providing primary and preventive care to low income patients from leased space at the Town Hall Annex on Harrison Ave.
To that end, Harrison advertised for bids to reconfigure the 3,580 square feet of space at the annex – that will be leased to the NHCAC for $24,000 a year – to accommodate what will be four examination rooms, offices for a physician and nurse and/ or nurse practitioner, a waiting room, utility rooms and bathrooms.
But the bids came in well above the funds budgeted – in excess of $500,000 – partly triggered by including displacement of a former basement bank vault as part of the job specifications, an expensive proposition.
After conferring with RSC Architects, which is designing the project, Harrison assigned municipal public works personnel to dismantle the vault to make way for office space and thereby drive down a big portion of the cost.
Then, last November, the town solicited a new round of bids, drawing prices from six contractors: Edge Property Maintenance, $379,640; LaRocca Inc., $331,000; Pal- Pro Builders, $344,000; SHD Construction, $319,000; V&K Construction Co., $417,000; and Salazar & Associates, $338,417.
After conferring with Harrison officials last week, NHCAC President Joan Quigley told The Observer that, “SHD Construction [of Monroe Township] has agreed to maintain the bid they offered months ago, so now only a Harrison [Town] Council resolution is necessary to complete the preconstruction process. That is expected to happen next Tuesday [April 14] evening.
“The SHD bid was for $319,000. The freeholders made $151,000 available in CDBG funds and the Town of Harrison had put aside $150,000. NHCAC will make up the difference and pay for essential equipment to get us started.”
So, Quigley said, NHCAC will have to come up with the $18,000 to make up the gap, plus an estimated $40,000 that it will need for equipment such as patient beds, examination tables and x-ray machines.
“After the site opens, it usually takes several months to obtain clearance from Medicare, then Medicaid, to begin accepting reimbursement,” Quigley continued. “So it will be some time before NHCAC is able to cover its costs, but we are so eager to serve patients from Harrison and West Hudson, that we will make that sacrifice. We are only sorry that the process took so much longer than originally planned, but since the contractor expects to complete the job within six months, we hope to open no later than December.”
Quigley said it typically takes 90 days for Medicare to sign off on approving reimbursement to a newly opened FQHC “and then, once that happens, Medicaid follows.”
Based on trends experienced at NHCAC’s other primary care facilities, most of the patients anticipated in Harrison “will have Medicaid insurance or none at all,” Quigley said. “Obamacare has increased our Medicaid population [at other sites] by 20% and has reduced our charity care by the same amount.”
Until Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement starts to come in at Harrison, the NHCAC figures that, “we will lose close to $100,000 in the first four to six months of operation in Harrison,” Quigley said. Nonetheless, the agency is resolved to go forward.
Quigley said the NHCAC will absorb the cost of all personnel assigned to the Harrison facility, although how many there will be has yet to be determined. That, she said, will depend on “the number of hours” it will be open and the volume of patients.
As of now, the Harrison Health Center will be open weekdays and will be staffed by at least “one full-time physician and two or three support people,” she said.
The Harrison facility will offer primary care to adults and children but no surgical procedures, cardiology care, mental health or emergency services will be available, Quigley said. Appointments will be encouraged but walk-ins will be accepted.
“As a Patient Centered Medical Home, the Harrison Health Center will be under federal supervision and we will be accredited by the Joint Commission [essential for Medicaid reimbursement],” she said.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says that a PCMH “is accountable for meeting the large majority of each patient’s health care needs, including prevention and wellness, acute and chronic care,” and may involve counseling by “pharmacists, nutritionists, social workers, educators” and the like.
It is hoped that providing access to the Harrison facility will cut down on patient visits to already overburdened area hospitals and offer patients shorter waiting times and enhanced care.