Washington Heights’ New Health Resource
By George Hulse, Vice President of External Affairs, Healthfirst
I’m excited to announce that Washington Heights will now have a new resource in the community for health education. My organization, Healthfirst, is opening a new community office this fall for folks to come learn more about Healthfirst plans, programs, and services. This office will be fully staffed with representatives who can answer your questions—in many different languages—whether you are a member or not.And you can also come and get tips, brochures, and other information to help you live a healthier life.
I spoke with Dr. Cheng A. Gonjon, one of my favorite doctors who works closely with Healthfirst in the Washington Heights community. He is a primary care physician who is a member of the Corinthian Medical, IPA and has been seeing Healthfirst patients for more than nine years.
George Hulse: What will this new Community Office mean for the Washington Heights community?
Dr. Cheng A. Gonjon: I think it will help the community greatly and make a huge difference for people because members can go and get the information they need and find out which providers and services are available. Healthfirst has extensive services that benefit the community and Washington Heights is a huge area with a growing population. The Healthfirst team can meet with patients and answer their questions in a more comfortable environment—especially now with the New York Health Benefit Exchange is launching. I think there is a lot of opportunity to educate the community.
Hulse: Can you tell me more about the patients you treat and what you try to do to help them?
Dr. Gonjon: I actually grew up in this neighborhood, and I went to school locally here. I’ve known a lot of my patients for many years. I mostly serve the Black and Latino population; 90 percent of my patients are Latino. The diseases that I deal with the most are diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, and various cancers like breast, colon, and prostate cancer. I’m very involved in terms of educating the patients, making sure that they’re healthy.
My practice is actually a Medical Home Level 3, the highest designation in terms of quality. Overall, all our scores across the IPA have improved significantly since we’ve been working closely with Healthfirst. My clinic recently scored greater than 95 percent in terms of our quality measures. We work closely with our providers and Healthfirst to make sure the standards and quality are improving.
Specifically, we are making sure our diabetics are coming to our offices every three months, going to see their eye doctor to get eye exams, and seeing the podiatrist. And we’re making sure more people are getting cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies. We work with Healthfirst on community health fairs to educate the public. We collaborate together so we can have doctors out in the community who teach patients and do diabetic testing, dental screenings, and a variety of examinations that are provided free to the community.
Hulse: What advice would you like to give to your patients and the members of your community?
Dr. Gonjon: I would encourage people to be more physically active, control their stress, and pay attention to their diet. Lack of physical activity and poor diet are the biggest things that lead to all the different problems [I see in my office]. I encourage a lot of my patients to join the gym if possible. There are low cost gyms like Planet Fitness that is only $10 a month. I refer a lot of them to nutritionists so they can get educated on what they should be eating and not be eating. Stress management is very important because these chronic diseases can only get worse from stress. And of course anyone who smokes, I make sure they get treatment to stop smoking.
Another thing I recommend is to make sure you have good relationship with your doctor because if you don’t, none of the other things matter. There has to be a trust with your doctor, and if not, then you won’t listen to the advice that your doctor is giving.
Hulse: How has Healthfirst helped you provide better care for your patients?
Dr. Gonjon: I love the Healthfirst team, and I work very closely with a lot of people there. Healthfirst has a culture of always trying to improve and being very close to the community. I’m able to coordinate a lot of care through Healthfirst to get the services my patients need very quickly to improve the access and quality of care to the members.
Our relationship with Healthfirst has helped my medical practice, as well as the other members of the Corinthian Medical IPA, grow tremendously. It has also helped our patients. We work very closely together on quality, and we’ve started a lot of new initiatives. Every year we go to the Dominican Republic where we do medical missions. The surgeons, primary care doctors, and pediatricians—sometimes 50 of us—go provide free medical services in March. That is something we’ve been doing for many years.