I spent a day with a health van providing care to low-income New Yorkers, and it reveals a hidden safety net for thousands in the world's wealthiest city
- About 700,000 people in New York City don't have health insurance.
- The Community Healthcare Network is working to ensure that people without insurance can receive basic healthcare services.
- Founded in 1981, CHN has 14 federally qualified health centers in four boroughs and a fleet of vans that go to different neighborhoods throughout the city almost every day of the week.
- CHN says that it provides care for 85,000 New Yorkers annually and that 2,090 patients were seen in the vans over the past year.
- Business Insider spent a day with one of the vans in Manhattan's East Village to see how people without insurance get care in the wealthiest city in the world.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
New York City is the wealthiest city in the world. And yet more than half a million people in the city don't have health insurance.A healthcare network whose mission is to "turn no one away" is working to ensure that people without insurance or who are undocumented can get basic health services.Advertisement
Founded in 1981, the Community Healthcare Network has 14 federally qualified health centers in four boroughs of New York City - Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan - that provide basic primary-care and sexual-health services.
It also has a fleet of four vans that go to different neighborhoods throughout the city most days of the week. CHN says that it sees 85,000 New Yorkers annually and that 2,090 patients were seen in the vans over the past year.
Health vans can go to where the patients areWhile the vans see only a fraction of the patients the health clinics see, a CHN representative told Business Insider that the vans "bring care to people where people are," focusing on communities that have often gone without care.
The vans can bring care to areas that regular clinics don't reach. CHN cited recent examples of vans being sent to provide vaccines during the recent measles outbreak, going to hard-hit communities after Superstorm Sandy, and providing after-hours care at clubs and bars.CEO Robert Hayes told Business Insider that the vans usually go to areas with more acute needs based on New York City health data. He also said that CHN works with other community centers and organizations in the city to coordinate scheduling and notify residents when a van will be in their neighborhood. "The reality is we turn no one away. We accept any insurance," Hayes told Business Insider. "Under federal law, we are required to have a sliding fee scale based on their income. But we don't want that sliding fee to be a deterrent to people needing care. No matter what, they'll receive treatment."Advertisement
The vans are a sharp reminder of the inequality that persists in New York City. There were about 8,980 ultra-rich people living in New York in 2018, the most of any city in the world, Wealth-X said in its 2019 World Ultra Wealth Report. The group defines the ultra-wealthy as having a net worth of at least $30 million.
Business Insider spent the day with one of the vans at 14th Street and Second Avenue to take a closer look at how underserved populations get care in one of the world's wealthiest cities.
Every Tuesday, a CHN van parks close to the intersection of 14th Street and Second Avenue. Vans are stationed at different intersections in the city most days of the week.
Dr. Freddy Molano, the vice president of infectious diseases and LGBTQ programs and services at CHN, has been working at the organization since it began. He witnessed the implementation of the mobile health clinics when the idea wasn't "fashionable," he told Business Insider.Advertisement
Inside the van, Nehemias Grullon, a community educator, looks at patient records and talks to incoming patients about insurance options. He collects pay stubs and general income information to help patients figure out their insurance options.
On average, the vans, which mainly offer primary-care and sexual-health services, see 15 to 20 patients a day, with some seeing as many as 25. People can come to the van with an appointment or walk in.Advertisement
Ofiong Okon, a nurse practitioner and CHN's medical director of mobile van health centers, began working at CHN five years ago, becoming a medical director one year after joining the organization.
Daniel Waits, who's uninsured, said he's visited the health van four times since July. Waits told Business Insider he found the clinic from a simple Google search and made an appointment the same day.Advertisement
Waits said he doesn't notice that he's in a van when he goes for his appointments. "It just feels like a room, like any other clinic," he said. "You don't notice you're in a van until you go outside."
Okon often also provides a sexual-health consultation to patients, discussing treatments like PrEP, a medication taken to prevent people from getting HIV.Advertisement
After each visit, Okon washes her hands and prepares to see her next patient.
Healthcare providers in the van can also take blood for disease screenings and other tests. CHN says the 14th Street van location averages about 900 unique patient visits annually.Advertisement
The focus for CHN is preventive care, or keeping patients healthy.
Moving forward, CHN is working to add more behavioral-health services to its health centers and vans, CEO Robert Hayes said.Advertisement
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