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SQUISH mulls over Huntley’s health care plan

TimesLedger Newspapers

State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) announced a new plan last week she hopes will solve the health crisis that has been gripping southeast Queens for years, but health advocates want to make sure the proposal has enough meat on its bones to make a change.

Huntley said she will be working with Dr. Robert Evans, the founder of Community Wellness Centers of America, a Jamaica-based nonprofit that develops programs for underprivileged communities, to create the Prescription for Change program.

The initiative that is in the early stages aims to bring an integrated care network that would take care of the health needs of the community and possibly create new jobs, according to the senator.

“Our primary objective is to bring about coordinated, cost-effective changes in the health care delivery system, which supports all local hospitals, and addresses the health disparities and lack of resources by responding to the community’s medical needs,” she said in a statement.

A “community steering committee” will be created as part of the plan and create an accountable care organization that would share medical data and coordinate care among smaller health service providers in the area. The committee will discuss ways to improve access to care, state health initiatives and securing appropriate grants, according to Huntley.

The senator also said the group would push for additional resources from the city Economic Development Corp.’s bioscience initiatives program and create new health care-based jobs in the area.

After Mary Immaculate Hospital closed two years ago, southeast Queens has had to struggle with the lack of a large, stable, primary care facility. Other medical centers like Jamaica Hospital and Queens Hospital Center have had a surge in emergency room patients.

Kevin Forestal, a member of the grassroots health group Southeast Queens United in Support of Health Services, applauded Huntley’s initiative but said it needed to be more substantial.

Forrestal’s group has been trying to come up with new ways to bring better health care to the neighborhood since the closure of Mary Immaculate and said the community needs results as soon as possible.

“The devil’s in the details,” he said. “This is a very broad announcement about talking about goals.”

Forrestal added that the city’s bioscience initiative is still in the request for proposals stage, but a call for it to be brought to the borough is a plus.

“There is a disparity of health access in southeast Queens and anything to help would be good,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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