Pallone Meets With Healthcare Professionals and Patients to Discuss Health Care Disparities

Apr 15, 2004

Asbury Park, N.J. --- U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) said the federal government should be doing more to help state and local governments address the increasing disparities in health care for our nation's minority populations. On April 13, the New Jersey congressman met with public health officials, healthcare professionals and patients at the Community Health Center of Asbury Park (CHCAP) to hear how the Center and other community groups are working to confront this growing problem. Pallone also wanted to get feedback on legislation he helped write that strives to reduce health disparities and improve the quality of care for racial and ethnic minorities.

"All Americans deserve equal treatment in health care, but our current system has created severe disparities along racial and ethnic lines in overall health care access, quality and outcomes," Pallone said. "State and local centers, like the Community Health Center of Asbury Park, have been doing their best to combat this increasing gap."

Despite a substantial need for health care, minority groups in New Jersey often encounter obstacles in obtaining health care. A March 2003 U.S. Census Bureau report found that minority populations in New Jersey--Hispanics (32.2 percent), African Americans (20.7 Percent), and Asian/Pacific Islanders (14.5 percent)--all have substantially higher uninsured rates than white New Jerseyans (11.3 percent).

At this week's meeting, health officials said that most people who do not have health insurance and or access to preventative care only have contact with a doctor when they go to an emergency room when medical care becomes absolutely necessary.

"A lot of people suffer in silence because they feel like they don't have anywhere to go," said Hazel Samuels, Director of Community Development for the City of Asbury Park.

"If it weren't for the VNA [Visiting Nurses Association], I wouldn't have insurance," said Carmelo Mazone, a patient at the Center. "If it wasn't for the Center, I would not be able to be helped because I could not afford it."

A great deal of the discussion focused on the need for increased funding and support for health maintenance and education programs. These programs play a critical role in educating minority families on health topics ranging from childhood obesity and dental care to AIDS prevention and mental health.

"They have not been educated at a young age," said Rob White, a nurse practitioner with the Visiting Nurses Association of Central Jersey. "We specialize in serving the population with limited resources."

Nina Goossens, Manager of Public Health for the Visiting Nurses Association of Central Jersey (VNACJ), highlighted a successful Monmouth County program that provides a free mammography to low-income women in order to detect breast cancer early. A federal grant provides funding for 330 of these tests, but the Center has had requests from over 800 women. Ms. Goossens and others stressed that they need more funding.

Pallone, co-chair of the Democratic Health Care Task Force, helped write legislation in the House of Representatives that would do just that. The Pallone-sponsored Healthcare Equality and Accountability Act of 2003 would strengthen health institutions that serve minority populations by establishing loan and grant programs as well as quality improvement initiatives for centers, like the Community Health Center of Asbury Park, that provide substantial care to minority populations. The legislation would also expand health coverage, remove language and cultural barriers at health centers and improve workforce diversity.

"I worked with more than a dozen of my Democratic colleagues in both the House and Senate to write comprehensive legislation that takes aggressive steps to eliminate these disparities," Pallone said during the meeting. "It's time Washington, Congressional Republicans in particular, step forward and finally address this issue."

Earlier this year, Pallone also submitted a request to the House Appropriations Committee for $1 million in federal funds for the Community Health Center of Asbury Park to build and relocate to a new facility. The Center currently is the only provider of comprehensive primary and preventive health care services in Asbury Park and the new facility will allow the Center to improve and expand their services.