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New health clinic in Brentwood brings medical care to an underserved community

Dr. Charles DeLaCuadra talks with patient Ana Mercado

Dr. Charles DeLaCuadra talks with patient Ana Mercado and her son, Justen, 2, both of Central Islip, in an exam room at a new health care center in Brentwood, operated by Hudson River Healthcare, a nonprofit, federally qualified health center, on Sept. 17, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

In its first month of service, 1,400 people, many like Ana Mercado of Central Islip, came through the two sets of glass doors at the Health Center at Brentwood searching for medical care that did not take into consideration languages spoken, immigration status or ability to pay.

Mercado, 24, a stay-at-home-mom to Justen, 2, and Alexander, 6, and wife of restaurant cook Luis Mercado, 34, said she has had trouble obtaining quality, consistent health services since she emigrated from El Salvador 11 years ago. Her English language skills, coupled with her family's stressed finances and lack of health insurance, made it difficult to pursue routine care.

"It's very valuable to have this here," said Ana Mercado, who came to the health center recently to pick up some medical records. She spoke in Spanish through an interpreter, Dr. Charles DeLaCuadra, a family medicine practitioner and medical director at the site. "I wouldn't normally be able to see a doctor because I'd have to pay a big sum of money."

The 50,000-square-foot space nestled in a shopping center on Brentwood Road near the LIRR station was transformed last month to HRHCare's 14th community health center on Long Island, Suffolk County's eighth.

Suffolk County leases the space that was formerly occupied by North Shore-LIJ Health System before HRHCare, a nonprofit founded in 1975, came in on Aug. 17, said Anne Nolon, president and chief executive of HRHCare.

County Executive Steve Bellone said the changeover would save county taxpayers $21.8 million over the next five years now that HRHCare has operational responsibility and control at the facility. The county will now spend $5 million a year maintaining the facility.

With the additional help of federal funds, the center is "available for everyone who comes through those doors," Nolon said, noting payment is determined on a sliding scale based on income and family size.

If a patient is at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty line -- currently set at $24,250 for a family of four -- the minimum fee for one visit is $15, said James Sinkoff, chief financial officer of HRHCare.

Dental, gynecological, family health and nutrition counseling are among the services offered by the staff, now at 52 members -- many of whom speak Spanish and English. Sinkoff said a patient and doctor not being able to understand each other because of language barriers increases the likelihood of a medical error "dramatically."

"It's hard enough to understand medical lingo for those of us who are English-speaking, educated consumers," Sinkoff said. "If English is not your first language, having doctors who speak Spanish will help you understand how to manage your health."

About 52 percent of the patients seen so far have come in without health insurance, Nolan said. Staff helps those without insurance obtain medical plans.

"We help people with language services, getting better access to these services and to be able to pay for those services," Sinkoff said. "That's our goal here: to break down barriers."