Jackson Heights health center expands

By Benjamin Fang

A longtime community clinic in Jackson Heights has transformed into a health center providing care for children and adults alike.

Elected and health officials officially cut the ribbon to the expanded Health+Hospital’s Gotham Health facility on Junction Boulevard last Thursday morning. The $1.8 million upgrade was funded by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Caring Neighborhoods initiative, a program to increase primary care in underserved neighborhoods.

According to Dr. Walid Michelen, CEO of Gotham Health, which runs 39 clinics in four boroughs, the facility used to only provide pediatrics care. With the expansion, the health center will offer ambulatory care, women’s health services, behavioral health care, adult primary care, family medicine and pediatrics.

The clinic, now with the addition of 13 upgraded exam rooms, new medical equipment and furniture and a full-time nutritionist and social worker, is expected to serve 10,000 patients annually.

“As a former Jackson Heights resident, I can tell you there’s a great need in this community for better care,” Michelen said.

Dr. William Foley, senior vice president for inpatient and ambulatory care, said the hospital system wanted to create a location that serves the entire family, which this new facility will accomplish.

“That’s the true purpose of this space,” he said.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland said she used to come to the clinic in her youth for immunizations and other medical care. While her mother worked in Manhattan, her aunt would take her to the center because she lived just two blocks away.

The councilwoman noted she worked with local elected officials like Assemblyman Francisco Moya to keep the clinic open in previous years, even when it just provided tuberculosis services at one point.

“Here, we’re giving service to those who need it most, with care and professionalism in a beautiful space,” she said.

Dr. Sonia Angell, deputy commissioner for prevention and primary care at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, stressed the importance of having access to care where people live. She said that two-thirds of Jackson Heights residents are foreign-born, and hospitals need to provide care for them “in meaningful ways.”

“Health care is complex, and being able to navigate it is hard for anyone, whether or not you’re born here,” Angell said. “But if you come newly into this city and you need to access this resource, it needs to be where you can get it easily.”

Dr. Daniela Atanassova-Lineva, a pediatrician at the clinic for 15 years, said it was a “dream come true” to provide care for the most diverse neighborhood in the world. She said she had dreamed of becoming a doctor since she was three years old, growing up in a small village in Bulgaria.

Fluent in five languages, Atanassova-Lineva said she’s better able to break the language barrier and connect with her patients. She commended the facility expansion because it will help provide more services and education to all patients.

Though physicians have helped control asthma, decrease teen pregnancy and achieved other medical goals, Atanassova-Lineva said they still have to find a way to combat obesity and addictions. The additional resources will go a long way to address those issues, she said.

“Having a nutritionist and a social worker, adding a family practitioner and women’s health, is such an invaluable addition to this new facility,” she said. “The whole idea of making this clinic easily accessible is an impressive new template.”

Sasha Williams, the mother of two children who are patients at the Gotham Health site, said she’s been coming to the clinic for years. When her son was 11 months old, he was diagnosed with bronchiolitis, a common lung infection in young infants, due to his prematurity.

The infection turned into asthma, triggered by allergies and colds.

Williams said her son was treated by Atanassova-Lineva, and eight years later his asthma is “almost nonexistent.” She praised the doctor’s team for providing the proper medication and treatment plan.

“Dr. Daniela was not only knowledgeable about his condition, but she took the time to make sure I understood the triggers and his treatment plans,” Williams said.

When Williams was pregnant with her now-infant daughter, she had “no doubt” in her mind who her pediatrician would be.

“There is not a place in this world where I’d rather go,” Williams said. “Now with the new renovations and the reopening of this facility, I am eager to have my entire family come here to get treated.”

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