By Ron Leir
April 1, 2014, is the projected target date for opening the Harrison Health Center, according to town officials.
The Harrison governing body voted June 5 to lease the 3,580 square feet of space now occupied by the local Board of Health staff in the Town Hall Annex to the North Hudson Community Action Corp. for $24,000 a year for an initial term of 10 years with options for renewals.
Ultimately, under the lease terms, NHCAC will be operating in that space, a “Federally Qualified Health Center” (FQHC) providing “primary and preventive care” health services, regardless of clients’ ability to pay.
Before that can happen, however, Town Attorney Paul Zarbetski said that RSC Architects, the Cliffside Park firm retained by Harrison for $29,000 to re-configure the space to NHCAC’s needs, will be revising plans to comply with recommendations by the state Department of Health.
Among the health care projects designed by RSC, headed by John P. Capazzi, are the NHCAC Women, Infants & Children Facility in Union City and NHCAC Health Center in Hackensack, Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Secaucus, Garfield Health Center, and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center’s Cardiac Cath Lab and Surgery Unit.
Once DOH gives its appoval, Zarbetski said, the firm can draft bid specifications for the reconstruction work. By the fall, he said, the town should be ready to pick a contractor and it’s hoped the work can be completed by year’s end.
That should give the NHCAC enough time to get equipment and staff in place, plan an office schedule, and get the place reviewed and licensed by DOH as an ambulatory care facility, and get things rolling by the spring, he said.
Harrison will use $180,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant aid to pay for the design and construction that will accommodate four examination rooms, offices for a physician and nurse and/or nurse practitioner, a waiting room, soiled and clean utility rooms, and several bathrooms. A mobile dental unit would be on site at least one day a week.
Pediatrics care, women’s health care, and adult medicine (including internal medicine family practice) are planned for an estimated target population of nearly 3,000 “low income, uninsured and under-insured” of West Hudson, including residents of nearby Kearny and East Newark, along with Harrison.
It’s hoped that this facility will relieve the strain faced by area hospital emergency rooms as the first stop for primary care for the region’s indigent patients.
In the town’s CDBG application, Mayor Ray McDonough says that many of Harrison’s elderly now “must be transported to several neighboring areas, as Harrison’s health care providers cannot serve all of their diverse medical needs. Also, Harrison has a significant population of adults and children who either have no or insufficient health insurance coverage. The proposed FQHC will be able to serve these needs with high quality health care.”
Newly hired NHCAC President/CEO Joan Quigley, former longtime Jersey City Assemblywoman and vice president at the former St. Mary’s Hospital in Hoboken, said that the Harrison facility will be the first of its kind in West Hudson.
Quigley said the NHCAC runs 11 FQHCs spread among Hudson, Bergen and Passaic counties. One facility in Hoboken hasn’t operated since Superstorm Sandy struck, causing heavy damage, she said.
“We don’t turn anyone away at any of our health care centers,” Quigley said.
Each center has a sliding fee scale based on federal poverty guidelines which, in turn, is keyed to household family income, Quigley explained, “so, for example, a patient visit that may normally cost $100 may ‘slide down’ to $20 or $30. We do ask people to pay a minimum fee of $20.”
To make up the gap, centers rely on “third party reimbursement,” said NHCAC CFO Michael Shabab. “We’re not yet sure what our payer mix will be in Harrison,” Shabab said, “but generally our experience at our North Hudson center has been 55% Medicaid or Medicaid HMOs, 40% uninsured, 3% Medicare and 2% private insurance.”
Hours at the Harrison facility, ultimately, “will depend on the demand for service,” Quigley said. “But anyone who enrolls with us can access our overnight call center, so if someone needs a prescription filled or an immediate discussion with a doctor, we can set that up within 15 minutes after the call is received.”
Shabab estimated $500,000 as the “initial year budget for the Harrison center,” including about $365,000 for salaries and benefits, $40,000 for medical supplies and $24,000 for rent.
How many clients the center will actually serve remains to be seen but Quigley noted that under the federal health care reform plan known popularly as “Obamacare,” experts anticipate seeing 300,000 additional patients in northern New Jersey.
“We know we’ll get a share of them,” she said, “but how large a share we don’t know.”