Building Healthy Communities

By Eva Turbiner, President and CEO Emeritus, Zufall Health

As we enter early 2023, almost three years since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the focus on the importance of access to health care and robust public health is fading. Happily, Somerset County consistently ranks as one of the healthiest counties in New Jersey according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. It also ranks as one of the wealthiest counties in the state. Health and wealth often go hand in hand as access to health care is facilitated by having good insurance and resources to pay for it. Yet not all the residents of our community share these assets.

Somerset County includes communities of poverty that are home to many needy families who often struggle to find affordable health care services and maintain good health. This difficulty was highlighted during the pandemic when we saw different rates of illness among essential workers who could not work from home and were often exposed to infection in work settings including food service, retail, and housekeeping. This crisis has reminded us that the health of all is intertwined and, together we must do what we can to take care of each other and stay well.

This focus on access to health care needs to remain in the forefront of concerns for our community. Too many of our neighbors and their needs remain hidden and underserved. This is where Zufall Health comes in – we are here for the neediest people in our community providing high quality, affordable and accessible primary and preventive medical, dental, and behavioral health care services — as we have for over 32 years. Zufall treats patients in the primary care setting and keeps them out of emergency departments when appropriate. This approach provides continuity of care and keeps overall health system costs down. Founded in Dover by Dr. Robert Zufall and his wife Kathryn as a small volunteer clinic, Zufall has grown into a community health system with sites in seven counties including two mobile units. We serve everyone, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

Top: Zufall staff bring medical care to directly to children at Hillcrest Elementary School in Franklin Township via the Highlands Health Van. Above: A mother and son feel relieved after receiving COVID-19 booster vaccines at Zufall Health – Somerville. The pair are among the tens of thousands of patients to whom Zufall has provided COVID vaccines in the last two years.

Zufall Health opened its Somerville office in January 2014, when it merged with Women’s Health and Counseling Center, and has been providing care to Somerset County’s hidden poor ever since, caring for families across the lifespan from babies to seniors. We opened our second Somerset County site, a school-based health center, in July 2022 at the Hillcrest Elementary School in Franklin Township. Being in a school lowers barriers for low-income families to access care for their children in a trusted place and strengthens Zufall’s relationship with the community. We look forward to opening a new Zufall site within the Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center in early 2023 which will integrate primary medical and dental care for those navigating mental health issues. Zufall also provides many supportive and enabling services such as case management, patient navigation, insurance enrollment, translation, and transportation that support our patients as they navigate the many social and environmental factors that affect their health.

Often resources are focused on more urban areas where there may be a greater concentration of those in need, but no one in our community should have to worry about where they can see a doctor.  Zufall Health stands ready with our doors wide open for anyone in need so that they can enjoy access to high quality health care that is essential for their personal well-being and the health of the community.

This article was originally published in the February-March 2023 edition of “The Connections.”

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