Back in the late 1990s, a group of physicians and local community leaders in Red Bank, New Jersey, began exploring ways to care for the uninsured in their community. Their project took off when one member of the group, Dr. Eugene Cheslock, a local oncologist nearing retirement, read an article in Newsweek about Dr. Jack McConnell and the clinic he founded in Hilton Head, South Carolina that used retired physicians as volunteer health care providers.
What caught Dr. Cheslock’s attention was the possibility of tapping the vibrant local medical community anchored by Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank. He contacted Dr. McConnell and Amy Hamlin of Volunteers in Medicine, to discuss what he hoped to do, and invited them to Red Bank to explore the possibility of a volunteer-based clinic to serve Monmouth County.
VIM staff saw Dr. Cheslock in action, and realized he had the passion and influence to successfully lead the project to completion. Together, they discussed the formation and membership of an organizing committee, and then recommended how best to conduct a Feasibility Study/Needs Assessment. At the conclusion of the initial site visit, Dr. McConnell sealed the deal when he convinced Dr. James Parker, revered physician for Red Bank’s West Side, that a volunteer-based clinic was not a “free lunch” for patients, but a better way to care for the needy.
And the uninsured were present. Red Bank constituted a pocket of poverty within a much wealthier suburban county in central New Jersey. Almost 15 percent of Red Bank residents were below the poverty level, compared with 6 percent in the county overall (and 9 percent statewide). Recent Latino immigrants represented a third of the town’s population.
To assess the need for a local clinic, the Red Bank Physicians and Citizens Committee conducted a door-to-door survey on the town’s West Side and found that 95 percent of Latino families and 30 percent of African-Americans lacked health insurance. Most people were employed as household help or in small businesses that could not afford employee health coverage. At the same time, Dr. Cheslock informally polled his colleagues at Riverview Medical Center and determined there was sufficient medical interest in volunteering to support a clinic.
VIM staff guided the organizing committee in establishing its legal status as a nonprofit as well as applying for 501( c )(3) status and an Employer Identification Number. Articles of Incorporation and Mission and Vision statements were also developed with assistance from the national office. After the clinic was open, Dr. Cheslock applied for FTCA malpractice insurance for volunteers.
The need was clear, the community provided the resources, VIM staff guided the planning process and the clinic—named for Dr. Parker and his late father, also a physician—opened on July 29, 2000 in a donated trailer outfitted for medical care by Riverview Medical Center.
Three years later, with support from Jon Bon Jovi and his wife, the clinic opened in a new clinic building. The clinic has done more than deliver health care to the uninsured – it has improved the economic health of Red Bank, with the opening of new businesses that transformed the area around the Parker Family Health Center.
Volunteer medical professionals are the primary care providers, supported by a small professional staff. The clinic logs over 10,000 patient visits annually with a focus on preventive services, chronic disease management and children’s health.
For more information, visit Parker Family Health Center.