Inside Honoring the Hands, Thursday at Martha Clara

David Page of Shinn Estate Vineyards, Anne Kauffman Nolon, President and CEO of HRHCare Community Health, and New York Times Chief Wine Critic Eric Asimov at Honoring the Hands 2016

Interview with Anne Kauffman Nolon, MPH. If you can’t attend, please consider donating.

Q: Honoring the Hands is a fundraiser for HRHCare. So, what’s HRHCare?

Anne: HRHCare is 501c (3) nonprofit health care organization designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). We started in Peekskill in 1975, and now we operate 28 health centers throughout lower New York State. We are focused on serving people that have a tough time accessing health services; such as agricultural workers, the elderly, the uninsured or under-insured, and more.

Typical barriers to health care access include affordability, transportation, hours of operation, and language. FQHCs address these barriers in practical ways that helps patients. For agricultural workers, we help to break down barriers by making a sliding fee scale available based on family size and income, offering transportation services and assuring a local bus stop is in walking distance of a site, establishing convenient hours, and hiring multilingual staff.

We serve over 150,000 people in the Hudson Valley and Long Island. In Suffolk County, we serve about 65,000 people, 5,000 of whom are agricultural workers. On the East End, we serve about 13,000 patients at our Greenport site, Riverhead site, and new site in Southampton.

Q: HRHCare stands for Hudson River HealthCare? How did you get from the Hudson Valley to the East End of Long Island?

Anne: We were started by a group of concerned people who felt that there was a lack of affordable, high-quality health care services available in Peekskill. In the late 80’s, we became the designated provider for agricultural workers in the southern part of New York State.

In 2003, we were invited to come to Long Island because of our expertise in providing health care services for agricultural workers. Sister Margaret of St. John the Evangelist Church in Riverhead was a big driver of that move. We started in Greenport with a reimbursement system with local doctors who could then serve agricultural workers. That wasn’t enough capacity! In 2007, we bought and renovated the Greenport site.

In 2011, the county and state health departments reached out to us because they wanted to expand health care services to a cost-effective, Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) provider like an FQHC. We’re recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance as a Level 3 PCMH – the highest level. Starting with the Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram, we worked together to create a system under the auspices of HRHCare, finishing in 2015 with Riverhead.

Our growth in Suffolk has been notable over the past four years as we brought seven new sites into our health system originally operated by the Department of Health. We now have nine different health centers in Suffolk, from Wyandanch to Greenport.  In the coming year, we think we’ll serve 75,000 patients in Suffolk County alone, with an expanded site in Riverhead.

Q: So, you’ve been serving people on the East End for over a decade, but this is only the 3rd annual Honoring the Hands. How did the event get started, and does it fund anything in particular?

Anne: Barbara Shinn and David Page, formerly of Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Jonathan Russo and Deborah Grayson, helped to organize the first one.   Barbara was aware of a program called “Days of Health” that involved outreach into the farm fields of Michigan to perform health screenings. They brought the idea to us in Suffolk County and, along with Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, sponsored the first event to raise money for our own “Days of Health.”

That enabled us to reach beyond our doors and go into the fields to bring care to people where they work – including a consultation with a bilingual physician or pediatrician, blood pressure and HIV screenings, vaccinations, and health insurance information and enrollment.

In the first year, we saw 100 people at our “Days of Health” who had never had exposure to our health centers. When our screenings detected issues that needed follow up, we were able to make appointments, arrange transportation, and make it happen.

The farmers and the Farm Bureau were very interested in expanding the services. The Long Island Farm Bureau, Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, and the Long Island Wine Council have all become partners. We’re excited to hold more “Days of Health” in the future as an outreach arm of our comprehensive services on Long Island.

Q: So, this event helps HRHCare bring health screenings and follow up services directly to workers in the field?

Anne: Yes, but it’s laying the groundwork for something even more special – a mobile health center van, like the one we have in the Hudson Valley, which makes it much easier to go out into the field and offer our services. A mobile health center costs $250,000 to purchase, and even more to maintain and staff with medical professionals so we can provide comprehensive care on the spot.

After the first Honoring the Hands, we put $50,000 toward a mobile health center, and $50,000 the next year. We’re hoping to raise another $50,000 or more this year, and combine it with grants and special donations to get the new van in the field as fast as possible.

Q: Does the East End provide any unique challenges in serving our workers?

Anne: The East of End of Long Island is a rural community with a rural population of workers. Rural health care access in itself is often difficult to achieve because of the barriers I mentioned previously, but also is more difficult to attract and hire physicians and nursing staff who must balance the reality of the cost of living with years-long employment in a rural environment.

Q: So, Honoring the Hands ticket buyers can certainly feel good about their purchase, since it’s investing in the health of the workers making the wine they’re drinking. But with these events, the event itself is important. So, what should ticket holders expect?

Anne: A beautiful setting, delicious food and wine, a fun wine contest called a “smackdown”, and a live auction with big prizes – like a trip to Puerta Vallarta.

Martha Clara is hosting, and food from Lombardi’s Love Lane and Noah’s will be served at stations. There will be a wine tasting booth, and the wine “smackdown” is fun to watch—or if you know a little about wine, fun to compete in.

The event starts at 7 this Thursday, July 13, at Martha Clara Vineyards, and tickets will be available at the door. So please, come join us!

Q: What’s a wine “smackdown?”

Anne: Oh, they do blind tastings and then ask the participants multiple choice questions about what they tasted. The questions start out easy—was that a white or a red—and get harder. One wrong answer and you’re out. Each year about 25 people participate (more can join), and the rest of the crowd cheers them on.

Q: How did you get involved with HRHCare?

Anne: I started as a Vista Volunteer in the early 70’s and spent time in a community health center. I didn’t want to do anything else with my career but continue to be involved in health care services for people who have difficulty accessing them. I went to Peekskill to lead the health center and never left.

HRHCare is now nearly 30 community health centers with 1,200 employees, including 250 clinicians serving the people of Suffolk and the Hudson Valley. I know it has been a constant guide for me that I grew up on a farm in Central Pennsylvania. The care and health of agricultural workers and our entire farm community is very important. Continuing to make health care access a priority is a responsibility to which we at HRHCare remain dedicated.

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