Township Council Amenable To Partnering On Community Health Clinic

A HEALTHY IDEA – Fran Palm, Zufall’s CEO, talks about the proposed partnership at the May 23 Township Council meeting.

The Township Council appears to be heading into a three-way partnership that could result in a permanent community health center established at one of the Franklin Middle School campuses.

Council members spoke favorably of a proposal to contribute $1.5 million of the $7.7 million received in American Rescue Fund money to build the center on the Franklin Middle School – Hamilton Street campus.

The building would be owned by the school district, which would make it available to Dover-based Zufall Health Services, the company that would provide the medical services.

The plan was laid out at the May 23 Township Council meeting by Fran Palm, Zufall’s CEO, and John Ravally, the district schools Superintendent.

“I’m totally in support of this initiative,” Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) said after the presentation. “It’s a good fit for the American Rescue Fund funding that we’re going to get.”

Palm told the Council that initially, medical services would be available to the district’s school children. The eligible population would then spread to parents and family of school children and then, eventually, to the community.

Students can’t learn well if they are not healthy, Palm told the Council.

She said plans call the building call for four medical exam rooms, four dental exam rooms, two vision exam rooms and one office for behavioral health.

Zufall for some time has been providing limited health care services a couple days a week out of their mobile van at Hillcrest School.

The original plan was to refurbish a portable classroom at Hillcrest to serve as the clinic, but, Palm said, “Shockingly, the cost of that renovation seemed costly.”

The decision was then made to build a free-standing clinic on the Hamilton Street campus, in a parking lot near the tennis courts.

“We have engaged an architect to draw up some plans,” she said. “The location is ideal because it is close enough to schools but also independent so that we don’t have to have individuals going into the school buildings.”

The clinic’s main targets, she said, are “anyone who has trouble accessing health care. Low income is generally the main commonality among many of our patients.”

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said the Hamilton Street location is ideal because it falls in a census tract that qualifies for Community Development Block Grant funding.

“The focus of all of this … is to serve the underserved part of our population, whether or not they live in Franklin Township is irrelevant,” he said. “It certainly would be available in the future to people who don’t live in Franklin Township.”

Palm said that in addition to receiving grants, the clinics are funded by insurance reimbursements and payments from patients. She said the patient payments are calculated on a sliding scale and based on income.

“I think we need to go forward with it,” Francois said. “I’m looking forward to the partnership that we have with the Board of Education and Zufall.”

“For kids to learn they have to have food, they have to have safety and they have to be healthy,” Mayor Phil Kramer said. “This is one arm of that.”

“This could be a really wonderful thing for Franklin,” Ravally said. Now, he said, Franklin sends its students to clinics in New Brunswick or Somerville.

“Making it available to the entire community is going to make for a healthier Franklin and just a better place,” he said.

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