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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What happens if the Neighborhood Health Center folds?

Logo of the Neighborhood Health Services Corporation,
formerly the Plainfield Health Center.

What would happen to healthcare for low-income residents of Plainfield and surrounding communities if the Neighborhood Health Services Corporation (NHSC) -- the former Plainfield Health Center -- folded?

It wold be disastrous, for sure.

In January, 2015 I wrote a post (see here) detailing the financial pressures that Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) face because of the slow payment on the part of Medicaid managed care organizations and the State. Cash flow problems became endemic to FQHCs throughout the state.

You can view the Neighborhood Health Services Corporation website here.

A filing for Chapter 11 is supposed to give organizations an opportunity to restructure their debt and continue in business on a path to full recovery. (The Plainfield YWCA has also turned to Chapter 11 bankruptcy to keep itself going.)

The first outcome evidently was the shuttering of NHSC operations in Phillipsburg and Newton. (I am told by a source in Newton that the community was able to absorb NHSC's clients into the community's existing clinic structure; I do not know of the impact on Phillipsburg.)

The NHSC currently operates two locations -- Plainfield and Elizabeth -- plus two satellite sites -- at Washington Community School and Plainfield High School (these are for students only).

There have also been rumors of salary cuts and layoffs. The most startling of these is that longtime facilities manager Eugene Baucum has been let go. Those with long memories will recall that Baucum took the fall for others involved in shady dealings with the construction of the Myrtle Avenue facility, then known as the Plainfield Health Center. He did serious prison time as a result. After  his release, he was hired by the Plainfield Health Center, and the widespread belief was that he had a job for life because of his loyalty. Evidently not.

I have also been told that the NHSC has been on a "watch list" by its accrediting agency for years.

Guidestar, which is an online resource for information about 501(c)(3) nonprofits such as NHSC shows the organization's nost recent 990 filing was in 2014. 990 is the common nickname of the annual reports nonprofits must file with the IRS (taken from the form's number in IRS lingo). You can view NHSC's 990s here. It's free, but you must register -- a simple process.

The Foundation Center (see here), which also maintains a database of 990s, has no records of NHSC filings at all.

Besides all this, a Google search turns up a complaint from 2010 (see here), from a signmaker who claims to have been stiffed by the NHSC over two signs made for the Phillipsburg and Plainfield locations.

The most recent rumor puzzles me.

That is that the NHSC is under contract for the sale of its property to a developer, from whom it would then lease back the building. This is not an unheard of scenario, and can free up financial resources for an institution in such a deal.

We should remind ourselves that the NHSC property also includes an undeveloped area behind the adjacent Comcast facility that runs up to the Green Brook.

One interesting question about such a maneuver is the tax consequences for the City of Plainfield. Ownership of the property by a for-profit entity would remove the tax exemption that the NHSC currently enjoys. How would that be handled?

Unless there is news to the contrary yet to be released, things are not looking good for the future of outpatient primary healthcare for the area's low income residents.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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