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Health provider for uninsured opens in Jamaica

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Residents of southeast Queens who do not have health insurance may think they are out of options if they need to see a doctor, but HealthReach NY is working to change that.

The Queens-based non-profit organization has been providing free medical care for uninsured borough residents since 1999, but now the group is moving into Jamaica through partnerships with area physicians and Community Healthcare Network, said Delia Celestine, executive director of HealthReach NY.

The program allows adults who are otherwise ineligible for health insurance, including government policies like Medicaid or Family Health Plus, to receive treatment, Celestine said. To qualify for the program a person must be a resident of Queens and have a medical need, and cannot afford or do not qualify for other insurance policies, she said.

“We don’t want those who have insurance,” Celestine said. “We really want to help those who have nothing.”

HealthReach NY started in Flushing in 1999, and now has 800 patients and works with community groups including HANAC in Astoria, YWCA in Flushing, NYANA in Rego Park, and NQHC in Flushing. The Jamaica center will be at Community Healthcare Network, located at 97-04 Sutphin Blvd., Celestine said.

“As a primary caregiver we try to meet needs of all our patients,” said Michael Fraca, director of CHN. “This is a valuable service to meet the needs of the clients who don’t have health insurance.”

About a third of Queens residents don’t have health insurance, and 80 percent of that third are employed, Celestine said. Many are undocumented immigrants who cannot get health insurance, she said. When they do need to see a doctor, many go to an emergency room, where they have to be treated by law, she said.

“If that patient is in private care and sees a doctor every six months, that could prevent an ER visit,” Celestine said.

Many patients enrolled in HealthReach NY have chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease, which can be controlled through diet, exercise, medication and medical supervision, Celestine said.

Once patients are enrolled in the program, they can communicate with a caseworker, who makes their appointments and sees that they keep them, Celestine said. The doctors volunteer their services and see the patients in their private practices, while lab work, like blood tests and x-rays, are donated by hospitals, she said. In cases where surgery is required, the hospitals also donate the operating room and the doctors donate their labor, she said.

HealthReach NY works with New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens in Flushing and Mount Sinai Hospital in Astoria, and they are talking with two other hospitals, Celestine said.

“We’re very pleased with the quality of care,” she said. “We treat patients with dignity and respect.”

The 120 doctors who volunteer with HealthReach NY are affiliated with hospitals which not only allow them to practice surgeries there but also means they are board certified, Celestine said.

HealthReach NY is enrolling patients in the Jamaica area now, but it is still working to reach agreements with nearby physicians and hospitals, Celestine said.

“We’re already putting our hands and feet into it,” she said. “We’ve been very successful in all the other areas.”

The expansion will allow southeast Queens residents to receive care closer to home, Celestine said.

“We’re looking forward to moving into Jamaica,” she said. “We feel it’s been unfair to south Queens residents who don’t have insurance.”

For more information on the program, call 353-9001.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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