Several years in the making, Harrison’s Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) – which the late Mayor Ray McDonough had pushed to create – is soon to become a reality.
Its sponsor, the North Hudson Community Action Corp. has scheduled a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new facility, 326 Harrison Ave., on Jan. 19 at 5 p.m.
It will be known as the Dr. Stanley J. Siwek Health Center, in tribute to the former longtime town physician whose medical career covered 70 years. Siwek attended to municipal employees and schoolchildren for half a century.
Some background: Siwek met his future wife, Catherine “Kay” Caprio, while interning at St. James Hospital, Newark, and Catherine’s mother, Edna Grau Caprio was a live-in housekeeper for Dr. A.A. Mulligan at his Harrison residence (now the Mulligan Funeral Home) where, after completing his internship, Siwek opened his first medical office.
In honor of Siwek, who died in May 2015 in Florida at age 97, the Mulligan family has made a generous donation in consideration of naming the center for him.
According to his obituary, as reported by The Star Ledger, Siwek “was the quintessential general practitioner: he took care of children and adults, delivered thousands of babies, assisted at surgery, set fractures, made rounds at several hospitals, had day and evening office hours, and made house calls throughout his career.”
It is in that same spirit that the Siwek Health Center will be operating, judging from a briefing given The Observer last week by Joan Quigley, NHCAC president and CEO, and Dr. Carmen Mallamaci, NHCAC director of medical offices.
Mallamaci is in charge of clinical operations for the corporation’s FQHCs in Hudson, Bergen and Passaic counties and Harrison will be the sixth. Harrison will offer a “family practice” for children and adults, plus GYN care.
“We will provide primary care for people with Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance and for people without insurance,” the physician said. Patients will be billed on a sliding fee scale, keyed to their income levels.
Early in the planning stages, there was an expectation that the center could also arrange for a mobile dental clinic but, Quigley said that service cannot be offered now.
“We are applying for free vaccines,” said Mallamaci, “and downstairs [in the basement of 326 Harrison], the WIC [Women, Infants & Children] program will be offered two to three times a week.”
The center will also have an on-site lab to do blood work “for those with insurance and at very low cost for those with no insurance,” Mallamaci said. And, she added, for the first three months it is operating – while it waits to be registered for insurance eligibility – “patients will still get tested.”
Other services, she said, will include birth control counseling, prescription of medications and a full spectrum of cancer screenings for general patients, school and municipal employees, nurses, home health care aides and children.
Under an arrangement pending with a local pharmacy, the center – by enrolling in the federal 340B Drug Cost Reduction program – will make patients eligible for significant drug discounts and, where possible, patients can also be directed to federal, state and/or private Patient Prescription Assistance programs that also provide meds at reduced or no cost.
And, she said, when patients are registered at the center, staff will determine whether they qualify for enrollment in federal Medicaid, Family Care and/or federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) coverage.
No surgery or orthopedics care will be done on-site but if patients are deemed to require that treatment, referrals will be made to the appropriate area hospital, she said.
Susan Ortiz, R.N., has been named to manage the center, supplemented by two registration clerks, one health information management (IT) staffer, two medical assistants and one full-time family practice physician. If a patient moves, his/her medical log can be accessed at any of NHCAC’s health centers in the tri-county region through its electronic record-keeping system.
The expectation is that the center will, at the outset, see an estimated 20 patients a day and it hopes to grow that number after more people become aware of the services available, Quigley said.
As of last week, NHCAC was waiting for the state Department of Health to issue the center’s ambulatory care license as well as certification from the federal HRSA (Health Resources & Services Administration) and assignment of Medicare and Medicaid registration numbers for insurance purposes.
The Harrison center space, which was developed on the site of the old municipal health offices, next to Town Hall, with the aid of $319,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, has been outfitted with a patient registration space, a small conference area, three examination rooms, an instrument sterilization room and bathroom.
Still awaited are medical and IT equipment, furniture and paintings furnished by the Foundation for Hospital Art.
Vito Veneruso, NHCAC director of operations, said the center will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday. It plans to start operations with one Saturday per month and add more as patient volume increases.
The center’s annual operating budget is projected, initially, at $475,000 a year, Quigley said.