On a rainy Friday, a young mother emerged from the South Queens Community Health Center with a baby swaddled in a pink blanket and a toddler huddled under an Elmo umbrella. She is one of the 1,500 young adults, mostly women, who visit the Jamaica center each year for reproductive health services and infant care.
The center opened in 1981 primarily as a family planning facility to prevent teen pregnancy, but has grown to include free testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, sex education programs, pediatric care and hypertension and diabetes screenings. About 90 percent of patients are African-American and most are uninsured.
Last Friday, dozens gathered at the center for an annual breakfast that gave community leaders and health officials a chance to discuss ways to improve health services in Southeast Queens, the area with the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the borough.
Representatives of organizations like Queens Child Guidance, an adolescent substance abuse treatment clinic in Elmhurst, attended and participated in discussions about emerging health problems.
Among those issues, according to Terri Timberlake, a psychiatrist from the South Queens health center, is teen suicide. She noted the importance of access to both physical and mental health care and explained that rates of suicide among African-Americans — particularly young men ages 15 to 19 — have climbed in the last several decades. She added: “It is a time when a lot of young men are struggling with unemployment, education, substance abuse and a lack of access to health resources.”
Oswald Ashpole, the senior associate director of ambulatory services at Queens Hospital Center, which is affiliated with the health center, said community awareness of the center’s services can play a key role. When the center opened, it served about 500 patients a year, a number that has tripled since then.
With presentations at high schools and libraries and the help of elected officials, the center has extended its reach; its effectiveness is measured by the decreased rates in teen pregnancy and STDs in Southeast Queens. But there is still a need to reach public housing areas where most residents do not have access to resources.
Audrey Tinsley,a physician’s assistant, shared insight on Harriet Tubman, her role model. When people are provided with the chance to live the best life possible, they are emancipated from socioeconomic obstacles. “Health is freedom,” she said.