By Janet Mazur Cavano
Where do you turn when you have no health insurance or cannot afford a doctor visit? For more than 20 years, residents in Monmouth County have counted on Parker Family Health Center (Parker) in Red Bank to provide free, routine medical care. In fact, since it opened 22 years ago, the organization has served some 175,000 patients, many from the county’s Latino and African-American population. Open six days a week, with a largely volunteer staff, including doctors and other medical professionals, Parker treats 9,000 patients annually.
In recent years, Parker has outgrown its Shrewsbury Avenue facility. In fact, since 2021, patient enrollments have increased an astounding 25 percent. This spike is attributed to Covid-related loss of health benefits, increased outreach efforts and more community partnerships. The result? A building bursting at the seams.
With a limited number of exam rooms, only two physicians can work at a given time. Likewise, there are no consultation rooms, forcing patients to provide sensitive intake information in exam rooms or non-private spaces. Nor is there a proper multi-purpose area and patients awaiting Covid vaccines have actually lined up outside, no matter the weather.
Thanks to a 2021 $107,500 grant from Impact 100 Jersey Coast, however, Parker has begun the initial phase of a major upgrade on its building. This will include new examination rooms, telehealth and social service spaces and a large, multi-purpose room that will be used by its staff, board, volunteers, patients and the community at large.
“We will be able to expand our physical footprint,”’ said Suzy Dyer, Parker’s executive director. “It has been a real struggle when we are seeing the demand for our services increasing; we need the space to meet that increased demand!”
With the Impact 100 grant providing seed money and heightened public awareness, Parker recently broke ground on an extensive, $5 million capital project to further complete its expansion. This includes a two-story structure that will be connected to the existing building as well as additional parking spaces
“Impact 100’s contribution early on definitely highlighted our work,” Dyer said. “They believed in Parker – our leadership and our vision – and kick started our campaign.”
What Parker may have lacked in physical space, they have not lacked in medical professionals who regularly volunteer their services. “We have amazing doctors – cardiologists, orthopedics, pediatricians. . . there are also retired doctors and retired nurses, and they all come here! It’s pretty amazing and speaks to the fact that there is a real need and people recognize it.”
Parker also recognizes the need for community education and plans to offer workshops on issues such as diabetes, hypertension, nutrition and mental health, once the expansion is completed. The intention is to make such sessions available to the community at large. As well the plan is to conduct such sessions in the attendees’ native language – Spanish, Portuguese or English.
“We need to meet people where they are and where they feel most comfortable,” Dyer explained. “Language can be a barrier.”
The target date for the plan’s completion is within the next 12 to 15 months. Dyer notes that while the project is ambitious, it is expected to be financially sustainable in the long run.
“There will always be a need in our community for a real safety net,” Dyer said. “And we want to make sure we will be here for the future. We are continuing what the founders of this organization thought – they realized that the health of one person impacts the health of us all.”
Parker Family Health Center
Health & Wellness