Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center opens its doors to bring enhanced health care to central Brooklyn

theGRIO REPORT - This week, the Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center (BSFHC) opened its new location in the heart of Brooklyn on Fulton Street...

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This week, the Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center (BSFHC) opened its new location in the heart of Brooklyn, located at 1456 Fulton Street in New York City. The sparkling new primary care facility was christened across the thoroughfare from its previous storefront office space, which had housed the community institution for 22 years.

BSFHC’s new home took six years to develop, but the wide building encompassing multiple floors is a testament to the virtue of patience. The large windows and expansive spaces of the facility are so airy and pleasant, the ultramodern BSFHC doesn’t seem like a clinic. More of an oasis, the updated building will house a variety of care units, ranging from obstetrics to dentistry, bringing an enhanced level of medical attention to its Bedford Stuyvesant community.

The Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center is a free-standing, non-profit primary care organization that has served Brooklyn for over 30 years. Insurance is not required to receive care, which is provided at affordable rates. The brain child of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, America’s first community development body, the new health care facility will serve 20,000 residents.

Patricia Hernandez, CEO of BSFHC, welcomed a crowd of well-wishers on the center’s inaugural day on Monday, which included members of the neighborhood, state officials, and members of the private sector. At a joyous press conference, Hernandez thanked them all for contributing to the development of what she called a “state of the art facility.” A parade to celebrate the opening down Fulton Street preceded the procession of speakers inside the structure.

Dignitaries who spoke included Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Steve Capas, President of NBC News, and Dr. Nirav R. Shah, the Commissioner of the New York State Health Department.

Jean Castro Black, the chair of the board for BSFHC had kind words of welcome for the esteemed guests. “A warm welcome is extended to all our supporters (and there are many), friends and family who had to endure the anguish and uncertainty of getting to this glorious day,” Black said. She also thanked the current and former board leaders for their vision and commitment regarding the project.

Commissioner Shah said of the center, “This is the best part of the job, to open a primary care [facility] and share in your success. This is really an incredibly day, and it builds on a long history of the services you’ve provided to this community.

“Gov. Cuomo and I are dedicated to transforming the health care delivery system of New York State to make it more efficient, affordable, equitable and highly accessible,” Dr. Shah continued. “This center will help us do all of that. With this new facility, the family health center strengthens its committment to increasing medical, dental, mental and other services… which means more than 20,000 people in central Brooklyn will be able to receive high-quality care.”

The commissioner also praised the center for meriting the highest National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) certification level that a primary health care facility can receive.

Brooklyn City Council member Albert Vann spoke of the new structure as a perfect match for the quality of service provided by BSFHC. “Bed Stuy Family Health really deserved this facility. You have developed a reputation of providing quality care with compassion. That’s not a reputation that you can gain overnight,” Vann said. “This is something that happened over a period of years, decades even.

“There are a lot of facilities where you can go and get some treatment and it’s okay, but the people that come into Bed Sty Family, it’s as if they are coming home,” Vann said affectionately.

State Assemblywoman Annette Robinson also praised the leadership of BSFHC at the news conference, noting that she and her extended family are longstanding patients.

“To the partners in this, I just want to say thank you to all of you,” Robinson continued. “And make sure you come, and bring your family members, so we can make sure this is the number one facility in the nation,” she asked the community members at hand.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz took the occassion to praise the BSFHC staff. ”[T]o all the staff members, you’re the best,” he told the energetic crowd. “You’re the ones who do the work! You know the saying in Brooklyn — the best way to describe this is, ‘How sweet it is!’”

Markowitz also expressed his hope that the center will use the enhanced operations provided by the new building to tackle the issue of obesity in Brooklyn, particularly for young people. Markowitz then declared it Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center Grand Opening Celebration Day in Brooklyn, before wishing everyone good health.

The Brooklyn borough president also heartily thanked Steve Capus, President of NBC News, for covering the opening — and Brooklyn in general — before the executive came to the podium.

“I know NBC has New York City in it’s heart,” Markowitz affirmed.

Capus expressed gratitude to Fernandez and her staff for their excellent work in designing and constructing BSFHC’s improved home. He also explained the special place the organization has in the hearts of NBC News employees.

“I’m honored to be here with everyone today, to be with such a dedicated group of individuals who are dedicated to this great community and to this facility,” Capus said. “It is a true honor to stand here on behalf of NBC. For three decades, this health center has been a cornerstone here in Brooklyn.

“It was two years ago when GE enlisted NBCUniversal employees to volunteer to step forward to help the health center. Our news division immediately became invested and vested in this clinic,” Capus explained. “We were eager to help in every way that we could. As a news division, we are dedicated to sharing compelling stories with our viewers. As individuals and people who work at NBC, we’re committed to lending a hand whenever possible. And this was an opportunity to do both.”

Over the previous weekend, almost 100 volunteers from NBC News had worked to help the BSFHC staff move from their old headquarters to the new building, which boasts 38,000 square feet of space. The previous facility had been about 10,000 square feet.

With almost four times the space, the Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center will be able to serve a greater number of patients with an even wider array of services.

The center’s Medical Director Dr. Pascale Kersaint then described how residents of central Brooklyn have faced great barriers to receiving quality care. In 2006, Bedford Stuyvesant ranked below 41 other central Brooklyn neighborhoods in relation to heart health, cancer screening, and the births of healthy babies, she said. There were more diabetes diagnoses, and higher hospitalizations rates for asthma. This made the death rate in central Brooklyn 30 percent higher than in New York City overall.

”[T]his health center was needed,” Dr. Kersaint said, “to address these disparities and provide quality health care to all those in need.” BSFHC had been addressing those disparities for years, but the limitations of the previous space placed restrictions on improving care.

Now situated in a pristine building cheerfully decorated with mosaics, BSFHC will provide advanced pediatrics, gynecological care, and internal medicine assistance to those in Brooklyn who need it most. Family medicine, dental care, a cardiology department, and more will also be offered, in addition to surgical consultations. Even a dermatology practice is planned for the near future.

Through these means, the Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center will become a hub for more people to receive access to the latest treatments, while receiving life-saving and enhancing preventative care. This level and variety of treatment was just not possible within the cramped quarters of the storefront where BSFHC had been housed.

Ronda Kotelchuck, CEO of the Primary Care Development Corporation, described how the expanded Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center, which was funded with over $26 million in loans and grants, will be a boon to this community by empowering its staff to do more.

“Now at last you have a facility that is commensurate with the role you play in this community, the importance you play in this community, and the quality of care that you deliver in this community,” Kotelchuck said to the jubilant BSFHC employees in attendance. “And you have a facility that will allow you to expand, and add services, and bring in new people, and better serve this community.”

The revamped BSFHC will also create 120 new jobs, “feeding the growing Bed Sty economic engine,” according to the organization’s CEO.

Hernandez ended the press conference with utterances of gratitude for the ideal health care environment BSFHC now has, which grew from the collaboration of numerous government agencies, foundations, government officials, neighboring health centers, and other benefactors.

Reflecting the happiness of her workers, BSFHC board members, and all the other center supporters, Hernandez said: “I want to thank each and every one of you. I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you! I want to give you a collective thank you! Thank you, thank you everybody!”

(TheGrio is a division of NBC News, which is part of NBCUniversal. GE is a major stakeholder in NBCUniversal.)

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb