Stimulus sprouts doctors in Queens

Community health center plans on adding staff and hours with a $1.3 million grant designed to jumpstart economy.

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By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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The Plaza del Sol Family Health Center in the New York City borough of Queens plans on using stimulus money to add staff and hours.
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The center's director, Helen Arteaga, shows off an examination room at the brand new, $5 million facility.
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Local restaurant owner Vinicio Menedez plans on using the center for himself and his five children.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Everyone's heard about the road building, the tax cuts, the education money. But in New York City, the stimulus plan is giving one community more doctors, more nurses, and greater access to healthcare. And they're getting it in just a couple weeks.

Situated in the heart of Queens, the Plaza del Sol Family Health Center is a brand new, $5 million, 12,000-square foot facility set to open in April.

Originally supposed to run at a loss for the first year or two, now thanks to a $1.3 million stimulus grant, the center is not only expected to cover costs, but can also hire two more doctors, a part-time ob-gyn, and six other support staff. Plus, it can stay open seven days a week and add evening hours.

"We were going to have a half-million dollar shortfall in the first year of operation, so this money comes at a really good time," said Paloma Hernandez, head of Urban Health Plan, the non-profit healthcare provider that runs Plaza del Sol and three other community health centers around New York City. "It will be really important for us to get over the initial hump."

Plaza del Sol is located in Corona, a once-Italian and now largely Hispanic community in the New York City borough of Queens.

Queens is one of the most diverse communities on earth. Some 138 languages are spoken there, according to the New York State Comptroller. Corona is situated about halfway between Jackson Heights, a largely Indian and Hispanic neighborhood and Flushing, a mostly East Asian area.

The clinic is expected to draw from a pool of about 300,000 people, and serve about 8,500 a year.

Although it will help anyone who comes through its doors, it targets the underinsured and those without any health insurance at all - a common occurrence in Corona where nearly a quarter of the population makes less than $10,000 a year.

One local resident is looking forward to when he and his five kids can visit the clinic for healthcare just down the street.

Currently Vinicio Mendez, a restaurant owner in Corona, brings his family to the doctor in a different neighborhood.

While it's only about 20 blocks away, Mendez said it's crowded - he often has to wait two or three hours to see the doctor.

"If they open one up here, I could go, and my kids could go," he said. "That would be excellent."

The clinic isn't intended to treat emergencies or trauma cases - for that people go to the hospital.

It's designed to provide basic long term care for people without a primary physician. The most common ailments treated are diabetes, asthma, hypertension, obesity and tuberculosis.

Offering the type of preventative care Plaza Del Sol will provide is not only healthier for the people it serves, but cheaper for society as a whole as it keeps them out of emergency rooms.

One government study says treatment at an emergency room can be up to five times as expensive than treatment at a doctor's office.

The grant to expand coverage is part of $2 billion that's been set aside for community health centers in the $787 billion stimulus package passed last month in an effort to boost the economy.

Hernandez believes the extra money for Plaza Del Sol will help the local community, and not just because they try to hire medical staff from the surrounding area.

When people come to the doctors, they often combine the trip with some shopping or a bite to eat.

"We serve as an economic engine for the community," she said. " "It really has a trickle down effect."  To top of page

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