Safety net health center launches in Jamaica

Diana Castillo, Catherine Abate and Elizabeth Joglar, of the Community Healthcare Network, are joined by Melinda Katz in opening the nonprofit's new center in Jamaica. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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Jamaica’s public health community cut the ribbon last week on a family health center that will provide preventative care to the uninsured and special services for Queens’ transgender community.

“This is an under-served community,” Community Health Care Network President Catherine Abate said at the new center on 161st Street Friday. “Many people are using the emergency room as their primary care doctor.”

The network runs several federally qualified health centers across the city that are part of the Medicaid safety net for those who cannot afford preventive care. Another center nearby on Sutphin Boulevard has been around for 30 years.

Abate said the Sutphin center’s patient load grew 30 percent last year and the robust network is well-equipped to care for those who fall through the cracks.

Undocumented immigrants, she said, will not be allowed to purchase insurance through the state’s new health care exchange, but Community Health Care Network will be able to provide care to undocumented pregnant women and their children.

The center, in the former Suffolk Title Guarantee Building, at 90-04 161st St., offers primary care for children and adults, including sexual health services, health education, social services, mental health services, nutrition counseling, gynecology and prenatal and postpartum care.

The center also offers programs and services specifically tailored to the needs of the transgender community.

Renato Barucco, the center’s Transgender Program director, said many of the community’s needs center around the use of hormones.

He said many transgender women are even injecting themselves with unsafe mixtures of baby oil and industrial silicones available at places like The Home Depot.

“They’re sharing needles or bottles,” he said. “I don’t think heroin use is that high anymore, but the problems are still the same.”

Many transgender women are trafficked from Mexico for sexual exploitation, Barucco said, and the center has a vast network or referrals to assist them.

Community Health Care Network also offers “Freaky Fridays” sexual health messages on your phone. You can sign up by texting “SexEd” to 877877.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 4:31 pm, July 9, 2013
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