CHEER, La Red address concerns about health pilot program

Representatives of La Red Health Center joined CHEER Executive Director Kenneth Bock for a meeting with CHEER members at the Coastal Leisure Center in Ocean View on Thursday, July 13, to discuss the upcoming addition of health services at the Ocean View location.

Bock started his remarks with an apology.

He acknowledged that members had received notice of the cooperative effort with La Red through a newspaper advertisement and said he understood why some members were uneasy.

“We put the cart before the horse,” Bock said.

He went on to tell the members in the packed community room that the plan is to roll out the health services program slowly, and that it would begin with offering services at the Ocean View center only to CHEER members.

In the beginning, La Red would have practitioners on-site at the Ocean View center one day a week, during “off-peak” hours. Services available will include health screenings, educational programs, immunizations and “limited diagnostic programs and services.”

“We want to walk before we can run with this,” Bock said.

“After we have an established process, we have no concerns and it’s all operating without problems,” La Red will open the services to non-CHEER-member patients by appointment, Bock said. Once that is operating smoothly, the plan is to open the center to walk-in patients “during certain hours.”

The health services are planned to be provided in what is now known as “the poker room” at the Coastal Leisure Center, which Bock said had been planned for medical use from the time the building was built.

Some members expressed concern about issues of germs being brought into the facility by sick patients and wondered whether the building’s air-handling systems can be improved to help prevent the spread of germs throughout the building.

A La Red receptionist would be in the front area of the building during service hours, and patients would be using the same restrooms as the general membership, Bock said.

La Red Chief Medical Officer Fabricio Alarcon told the group that La Red’s mission of serving those who are not receiving healthcare through other avenues “has not changed since we started” in 2001.

He said CHEER members can benefit from the La Red services in many ways, including situations where they need to see a doctor but, for whatever reason, cannot get in to see their regular physician.

“This is a very open partnership,” Alarcon said. “Our goal is to make this work and for this to be a program that everybody benefits from,” he said.

The CHEER members in the audience had plenty of questions for the officials. They included, in addition to the safety questions, whether studies had been done as to need for such services in Ocean View specifically; transportation of patients; record-keeping; and demonstrated need for the program.

Bock said that, although there is no separate ventilation system for the proposed exam room, the room will be cleaned at the beginning and end of each day of service, as well as between patients. As for exposure, he said, “You’re going to have the same exposure as any waiting room you go into. It would be no greater than any public environment.”

Ultimately, Bock said, if the Ocean View “pilot” program is successful, the program would next be expanded to CHEER centers in Long Neck, Milton and Greenwood.

One member asked why the program can’t be done with a separate vehicle, such as a bus, similar to bloodmobiles and other service-specific buses. Bock said that such a bus would be an expense for which CHEER does not have funding.

He said CHEER centers lost $240,000 in State funding this year, but added that the La Red program is actually estimated to bring in $150,000 in revenue for the county’s senior programming hub. So far, that has helped CHEER to purchase a new emergency generator for the center.

One member asked whether CHEER had taken into account “lost membership fees” from members who aren’t happy about the La Red partnership. Bock said he hoped the members would reconsider leaving the center and would give the program a chance.

“We don’t want to lose a single one,” he said. But, he added, the overall goal of CHEER is “to continue to serve a broader segment of the community.”

La Red Chief Operation Officer Rosa Rivera said records of patient visits will be computerized and would be able to be sent to patients’ regular doctors, if necessary, and that La Red is part of the state’s medical records system.

Both state Sen. Gerald R. Hocker Jr. and state Rep. Ronald Gray were present at the meeting.

“I just wish this meeting had taken place some time ago,” Hocker said, adding that, as a longtime supporter of CHEER, “I will do whatever it takes to make sure you all are happy.”

“La Red is good,” Hocker said. “They have helped so many people to meet their needs. They can be an asset to this CHEER center if it’s handled right.”

Gray agreed, saying, “I think you need to give this program a chance.”

“We have a chance to be a model for the rest of Sussex County,” Bock said.

A ribbon-cutting is scheduled for Aug. 14 for the La Red-CHEER partnership in Ocean View. Bock promised the CHEER members that he would come back within 90 days after the program starts to hear what they think of it.