NEWARK – Confronting the East Ward closure of Saint James Hospital seven years after the fact, Democratic lawmakers this morning cut the ribbon on a new federally qualified health center that will expand health services in the Ironbound neighborhood thanks in part to $600,000 in Affordable Care Act (ACA) dollars.
Now this is Newark, so the local officials dominated the press conference, taking turns at the microphone and indulging in extended personal historical reflections while their federal counterparts waited patiently in the background.
Behind Mayor Ras Baraka and the twin federal personages of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), the usual glut of recognizable politicians who played a part specifically acknowledged the work of U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6), the Monmouth County Democrat.
“Something must be happening today,” acknowledged Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator. “You don’t get us all in the room at the same time – unless it’s a fundraiser.”
For years, Pallone would amiably turn up in the carpeted corridors of Essex County and do little more than feed the political back story of how he scented a U.S. Senate seat. But today, as the powerfully effective ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Health, he could legitimately do a victory lap for having secured funding for the new health center.
“We are thrilled to be opening our doors to provide much needed primary care to the residents of Newark and our surrounding neighbors,” said Nicole Fields, president and CEO of Saint James Health. “Saint James Health was founded in 2014 to fill the gap in primary care left by the closure of Saint James Hospital, to improve health outcomes and to guarantee access to culturally competent care, specifically in the East Ward.”
In response to the praise from his Essex colleagues, Pallone credited the tag team of U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10) and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8).
Leaned on aggressively locally by At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana, East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Sires and Payne put the screws to Pallone on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Pallone noted how Payne stands in the front of the House Chamber and Sires in the back. The two would put him in a sandwich, he said, and not let up until they got assurances that he was moving on the requisite applications to secure the hospital center funding.
“I can’t overstate how hard they worked,” the Monmouth congressman said. The senator splayed a big role, too, their colleagues noted. Pallone, in fact, gave a special nod to Menendez; and “Cory was out traveling all over the place, but we got him,” said Quintana.
“Communities like Newark face incredible barriers to adequate health care, such as transportation, language, and inadequate access to information,” said the junior senator, referring to a city wherein 45% of the population lacks health insurance. “This new federally qualified health center will help address these health inequities by bringing critical, high-quality health services into the community. I was proud to have worked closely with HHS to bring nearly $3.7 million in federal funding to New Jersey for community health centers, and stand committed to continue strengthening our underserved communities.”
When it was his turn to speak, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo acknowledged Pallone’s new role as “a big shot.”
“You’ll get a call from me,” said the executive, noting how health centers are the future, and critical here in Essex, which lost sis hospitals in the last six years.