Left to right: Dr. Raymond Flis, nephrologist; Dr. James McGuinness, family medicine, Director; Dr. Roy Carman, gastroenterologist

Left to right: Dr. Raymond Flis, nephrologist; Dr. James McGuinness, family medicine, Director; Dr. Roy Carman, gastroenterologist

The Two River Times – January 13, 2017 – “Parker Family Health Center Continues Mission” by John Burton

RED BANK – With a change in the ranking member of its staff, the work of Parker Family Health Center and the community’s need continue.

The health center, which has been operating on Red Bank’s West Side for almost 17 years, has named a new medical director, who isn’t really new to the facility.

James McGuinness, M.D., has been a volunteer at the health center since 2009 and has taken over recently as its medical director, having been serving as its interim medical director.

Even though he has taken on the added responsibility of the administrative post, McGuinness said he continues to see patients every day along with his other responsibilities. But that’s what it’s all about, he stressed.

“You enjoy the hard work,” McGuinness said about the long days and obligations his roles require. “Anything we can do to help the people, we do it.”

The Parker Family Health Center, 211 Shrewsbury Ave., was established, through the efforts of many including McGuinness’ predecessor, Eugene Cheslock, M.D., and with help from rocker Jon Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea Hurley, to provide quality health care for the uninsured and working poor of the area.

The facility was named in honor of Drs. James Parker, African-American father and son family physicians, who for much of the 20th century selflessly provided medical attention for West Side residents, many of them minorities and the working poor.

McGuinness, 65, is a family physician who operated a practice in Middletown, his hometown. Earlier in his career he was director of the emergency and outpatient departments of Newark’s St. James Hospital and was director of ambulatory care services for the Cathedral Health Care System, also in Newark, as well as having worked in the pharmaceutical industry in the area of drug safety surveillance and for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, East Rutherford.

McGuinness went to medical school in Mexico (and is fluent in Spanish – an added benefit for his work with the area’s growing Hispanic community, with many of them relying on this facility for health care) and said he became a doctor because, “growing up I always wanted to help people.”

That feeling of wanting to help, in providing medical care, continues with his work and the work of staff and volunteers with the health center. “We do things the old-fashioned way,” he said, explaining he and the other doctors actually spend time listening to the patients, hearing not only about their ailments, but about their lives, allowing for a holistic approach to medicine. “You can learn a lot by listening,” he said.

McGuinness told of treating a woman facing a terrible cancer diagnosis. As she was leaving the exam room, the doctor and patient did a little slow dance. That became a ritual for the two every time the patient visited. McGuinness said that little gesture became important for the patient – and the doctor. “You want to treat their soul, their body, their heart,” he said.

According to Mary Nicosia, director/clinic coordinator, the health center has seen approximately 135,000 patients since its beginning in 2000. The location relies on the generous time of its doctor volunteers – including various specialists – to continue to see between 40 to 50 patients a day for the facility’s 5 1/5 days a week operation. About 65 percent of patients come from Red Bank, said Nicosia, but the facility has people from much of the area coming to see the doctors. The site also offers social workers and dieticians to meet the patients’ needs, as well.

The idea behind the facility, in part, is to offer medical care and long-term maintenance for chronic conditions, as opposed to having the uninsured and ill wait until the situations becomes acute, forcing them to the local hospital emergency room. That strategy would help keep costs in check for the ERs and hospitals and improve the health and quality of life for patients.

“We see it all here,” McGuinness said, explaining they regularly treat patients with such conditions as diabetes, helping them keep their blood glucose in check to forestall complications; pediatric care; heart disease; and quite a few with asthma.

The facility works in cooperation with Riverview Medical Center, here in the borough, which does patients’ bloodwork analysis; and with local pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies to get patients their prescriptions.

The Parker Family Health Center does not receive any direct governmental assistance, other than through some grant applications, getting its support from individual and institutional donations and grants.

Nicosia also noted, with the prospect of the 115th Congress repealing the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, that could mean as many as 26,000 in Monmouth County could lose health insurance. “So, places like Parker will be even more important in the future,” Nicosia said.

There are currently three other health care facilities in the state providing comparable services to what the Parker center does, located in Cape May, Bergen and Ocean counties.

McGuinness did let a little of the pride he has for the facility show through when he said: “Nobody does it like we do…I’m prejudiced, but people get really good care here.”

The days can be long and stressful, as he tries to balance the administrative and medical work –“You’re always on code yellow, waiting to see what comes through the door,” in the way of emergencies. But since beginning as a volunteer about eight years ago, McGuinness said he continues to realize something. “You come out of here energized,” at the end of the day, he said, “because you’re actually helping people.”