BY TOM HESTER SR.
Gov. Chris Christie on Monday traveled to the Southern Jersey Family Medical Center’s Burlington City Health Center to kick off National Health Center Week, an action that kicked up a lot of criticism of his record on health care by legislative Democrats.
“The Burlington City Health Center and all of our New Jersey community health centers are an essential part of our health safety net for those who otherwise would not have a medical home,” Christie said. “These centers offer affordable, high-quality care to residents and families in need. I am proud of the strong support my administration has provided for community health centers in the budget – $113 million in Medicaid and $46.4 million for the uninsured. With this assistance, we are making sure the people and communities who rely on these services lead healthy lives now and in the future.”
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) who has repeatedly tried to have $7.5 million for women and family health care centers that was cut from the 2010-11 state budget by the governor restored, declared, “women deserve access to health care, not meaningless proclamations.”
“The women of New Jersey aren’t fooled by the kinder, gentler image that the governor is trying to roll out to salvage his plummeting poll numbers,” Weinberg said. “They understand that under this governor, access to basic health services has been severely reduced, and the safety net for women’s health has been all but dismantled. A proclamation celebrating National Health Center Week isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on when the governor’s actions tell a very different story about his support for health care.”
The theme of this year’s National Health Center Week is “Celebrating America’s Health Centers: Serving Locally, Leading Nationally.”
The Southern Jersey Family Medical Center offers health services at eight sites in Burlington, Atlantic and Salem counties. The medical center, including the Burlington site, has received a total of $4.1 million in state funds and $4.8 million in federal aid this year. It has received grants from the state Department of Health and Senior Services for 2011-12 totaling $1.1 million including $650,000 for access to prenatal care, $265,750 for diabetes management, $4,600 for newborn hearing programs, and $220,500 for oral health programs
The governor’s office said that since last year, the administration has maintained and increased the support of community health centers by $6.4 million. It said statewide, more than 400,000 patients are treated each year at 103 sites that provide dental, pediatrics and health care for both men and women. It said 70 percent of those who receive health care at the sites are women and children. It said total number of patient visits each year exceeds 1.3 million. Nearly half of the patients are on Medicaid and 42 percent are uninsured.
Weinberg said that in Christie’s first budget, 2010-11, he eliminated funding for women’s health care and family planning services, choosing to forego a 9-to-1 federal match on the state investment for ideological reasons. The governor opposes abortion.
Weinberg led efforts to restore the $7.5 million for women’s health care, but each time the bill was approved by the Legislature, Christie vetoed the measure.
The senator charged that women have found it more difficult to access basic health services including mammograms, cancer screening, blood pressure screening, pre- and post-natal care, HIV/AIDS testing, sexually transmitted disease treatment and contraception.
She said reductions in aid for family planning have resulted in two sites in Burlington County – operated by the county health department and located in Browns Mills and Mount Holly halting services for family planning patients.
“If the governor and legislative Republicans really cared about health care, they’d work with us to restore the cuts to women’s health programs and the myriad other health care safety net programs which have been on the governor’s chopping block,” Weinberg said. “Publicity stunts like signing a proclamation for National Health Center Week provide little comfort for women struggling to access health care.’
Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union) joined Weinberg in criticizing the governor.
“Nothing epitomizes the governor’s out-of-touch, let-them-eat-cake attitude than his signing a proclamation on health centers after he’s spent 20 months restricting access to health care for women, senior and disabled citizens and working families,” Stender said.
“Proclamations are nice, but they do absolutely nothing to provide health care to working class New Jerseyans bearing the burden of the governor’s health care cuts,” the Assemblywoman added. “Whether it be eliminating funding for women’s health care, new co-payments, cutting back on adult medical day care, freezing FamilyCare for adults or slashing Medicaid and help for nursing homes, this governor has made clear he is not committed to ensuring access to health care for working class residents. Seniors and working class families who have lost access to health care under this governor know a proclamation will do nothing to change their worry.”
Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) welcomed Christie visit.
“We have just kicked off National Health Center Week and couldn’t be more pleased that the Governor came down here to celebrate our extraordinary FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Center) here in Burlington City," Allen said. "The fact is we really should be celebrating these centers every day of every week because of the positive impact they have on the lives of our lower income residents, particularly women.
“Among the services offered by FQHCs include: gynecological services for women, prenatal and newborn care, dental, pediatrics and after my bout with oral cancer, I am particularly pleased that they are expanding oral health care as well," Allen said. "I am thankful for the strong support the governor and the Legislature have given to the FQHCs."
Throughout National Community Health Center Week, 50 free public events will be held throughout New Jersey including health fairs, health screenings, immunizations, open house tours, family activities, cookouts, receptions and award presentations.
On Monday, Acting Health and Senior Services Commissioner Dr. Tina Tan joined the New Jersey Primary Care Association (NJPCA) for an awards ceremony for the centers at the Neighborhood Health Services Corp. in Plainfield.
On Thursday, Dr. Carolyn Daniels, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services Office of Minority and Multicultural Health, will participate in Newark Community Health Center’s Community Health and Patient Appreciation Day, which will feature health screenings, a healthy cookout and fitness demonstrations. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 741 Broadway in Newark.
On Friday, Daniels will attend AtlantiCare Mission Healthcare’s 5th Annual Barbeque Celebration for the Homeless. This event will begin at noon at 2009 Bacharach Blvd. in Atlantic City.