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PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
December 22, 2008

Heather Howard
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner or Marilyn Riley
(609) 984-7160


 
DHSS Strives to Maintain Access to Care, Protects the Health Care Safety Net, Provides Grants to Hospitals and Community Health Centers


 

 

          In the face of hospital financial distress and a nationwide economic downtown in 2008, the Department of Health and Senior Services kept the state’s safety net hospitals open with $44 million in grant assistance, strengthened the health care system through legislative reforms, and took steps to improve women’s access to prenatal care.

 

          New Jersey has also invested in residents’ health through grants to community groups to reduce chronic disease and expanded services at the state’s community health centers, particularly in areas where hospitals have closed.  The health centers provide medical, dental and specialty care to approximately 350,000 people who are either uninsured, enrolled in FamilyCare or recipients of Medicaid and Medicare.

 

          “This is a challenging time, both for hospitals and for the state’s most vulnerable residents,” said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard. “By working to stabilize our hospitals and expanding access to health care, we are ensuring that people continue to get the care they need and deserve.”

 

          DHSS provided $44 million from the newly created Health Care Stabilization Program to fund six hospitals at risk of closure or significant service reductions.   The grants – which ranged from $1.1 million to $22 million – were awarded with conditions, such as including a state government representative on their governing board and documenting progress in improving hospital performance and quality.

 

          The Stabilization Program was one of the many recommendations made by the Commission on Rationalizing Health Care Resources, which Governor Jon S. Corzine appointed at the end of 2006 to examine the financial distress being experienced by New Jersey’s hospital industry.

 

          DHSS continues to closely monitor hospitals’ financial health through an early warning system created as part of a package of health care reform bills which Gov. Corzine signed into law in August. The Early Warning System allows the Department to intervene if needed to prevent hospital closures.  Other hospital reform measures signed into law ensure that uninsured working families are not overcharged for hospital care; require hospitals to conduct an annual public meeting to improve communication and transparency between hospital leadership and the community it serves; and require all hospital board members to complete a comprehensive training program designed to improve hospital governance.

 

          To further support safety net hospitals, New Jersey’s charity care funding formula also was revised this year to target limited funding to hospitals that provide the most care to uninsured and low-income residents.   

         

          New Jersey’s network of community health centers is a vital part of the health care safety net.  There are now 89 sites that handle a million patient visits a year.  Centers offer a range of preventive care services, from internal medicine, to pediatrics, geriatrics, and many also offer dental and mental health services.

         

          “As more people lose jobs, and ultimately their health coverage, more people will turn to the health centers for care.  Even in a tight budget year, we felt it was important to boost funding so centers could expand their facilities, hours and services to better serve their communities,” Commissioner Howard said.

 

          Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) are a key partner in providing access to health care. Many of New Jersey’s uninsured and Medicaid patients use FQHCs as their primary healthcare home.  This year the State has provided a financial boost to the centers that serve as a medical home for New Jersey’s most vulnerable.  In August, Governor Corzine announced that health centers will receive a $3 increase - from $98 to $101 - for each uninsured patient visit to one of the 19 community health centers, which operate a total of 89 sites.  In addition, the Department funded $5 million for capacity expansion at FQHCs.  These grants enabled facilities to improve services, hire doctors and nurses, and extend hours to better serve their communities.

 

           In October, Commissioner Howard launched the “A Healthy You = A Healthy Baby” awareness campaign to educate women about the importance of prenatal care and preconception health care, so a woman enters pregnancy in the best possible health.  Women who start care in the first trimester have the best chance of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. The campaign followed the release of the Prenatal Care Task Force report that recommended ways New Jersey can raise the percentage of women getting early prenatal care.  New Jersey ranked 40th nationwide in early prenatal care, according to a recent report by the National Women’s Law Center.

 

          As part of the campaign, the Commissioner visited women around the state, at health centers, WIC clinics, college campuses, and at a community baby shower.  DHSS developed education posters that can be placed in areas women frequent.   The Commissioner also helped mark the opening of the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey’s new prenatal care center in Paterson which addressed a void in services since the closure of Barnert Hospital. DHSS supports the new prenatal care center through grant funding.

 

          In other initiatives in 2008 to improve child health and the health and independence of seniors, DHSS:

 

  • Provided $800,000 in grants to eight community and faith-based organizations to educate and train community leaders about effective methods to help individuals learn to better control chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes. Commissioner Howard visited the grantees in September as part of Minority and Multicultural Health Month.
  • Created the nation’s first set of safety and health standards for the interior of buildings to be used as child care centers or educational facilities.  The regulations have already been used to remove children from potentially harmful situations around the state.
  • Prompted a national investigation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission into the health impact of lead in artificial turf fields after a turf field in Newark was found to have elevated lead levels.
  • Improved efforts to identify and evaluate children with autism. The Department developed rules to create an Autism Registry to register autism cases, transferred the Autism Council from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to DHSS and worked on guidelines health care professionals can use to evaluate young children for autism.
  • Continued shifting Medicaid-funded long-term care services for seniors from nursing homes to alternative settings such as medical day care, assisted living or their own homes.   Despite the growth in the elderly population, the number of seniors receiving Medicaid nursing home services is down four percent in the last two-and-a-half years, and the number in alternative settings has increased by 14 percent.

 

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