Commentary: The Door is Open for You: Northern Westchester Hospital is Raising Community Health

Northern Westchester Hospital
Dr. Daren Wu, chief medical officer at Open Door Family Medical Center, and his staff works with Northern Westchester Hospital to help deliver the health care needs of the underserved population.
By Gail Ritterhoff

The health of a community depends on the wellness of everyone who lives and works within it. When individuals thrive, so does society at large.  

Northwell Health is fully committed to this notion, recently launching a Raise Health initiative to “galvanize a coalition of people, organizations and communities that aim to fight for better health for everyone.”

Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH), part of Northwell Health, will be an active and enthusiastic partner in this endeavor. Examples of such efforts at NWH include a wellness garden that supplies fresh organic produce for those facing food insecurity in the Mount Kisco area, community outreach and education to promote good health and a robust financial assistance program.

Perhaps most importantly, NWH will continue to “raise health” by working to provide state-of-the-art health care to anyone who needs it. Through its enduring relationship with Open Door Family Health Center in Mount Kisco, the hospital has been doing just that for well over a decade.

An Open Door

Serving almost 60,000 patients each year at various locations in Westchester and Putnam counties, Open Door’s guiding vision is that quality health care is a right, not a privilege, and should be accessible regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.

“Excellent care is available in this country, but predominantly for those that have the right insurance,” Open Door’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Daren Wu said.

Open Door’s mission is to help correct this inequity, said Wu. He is especially grateful that NWH is a partner in that mission.

“Northern Westchester Hospital employees do not care if you don’t have insurance, don’t care where you are from or about the color of your skin. They treat everyone equally based on need,” he said.

“Many of our patients are able to see specialists and to access diagnostic capabilities such as mammography, CT scans, MRIs and X-rays at generously discounted prices, often free; it has been really wonderful.”

In addition, the hospital has also created a new gastrointestinal clinic specifically for Open Door patients without insurance, enabling them to receive endoscopies and colonoscopies.

Patients who have benefited from NWH’s charity care clearly appreciate its accessibility and the compassion with which it is provided.

“I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and I’ve been going to the hospital for radiation therapy. I am very grateful for the doctors there, and the people in the finance department, who helped me with the charity care application,” said a recipient named Louise.

Marie, another recipient, had her baby at the hospital, her mind at ease.

“The Prenatal Care Clinic at Northern Westchester Hospital is great, and so close to home, I didn’t have to worry about transportation,” she said. “The staff answered all my questions and made my prenatal process easy. Delivering my baby at the hospital was a wonderful experience.”

High cost of neglect

Patient testimonials certainly underscore the humanitarian benefits of charity care. But providing aid to vulnerable populations is about much more than the satisfaction of doing the right thing. In fact, the cost of neglecting the underserved and uninsured members of our community can be quite steep.

“From a public health standpoint, we need to care for everyone in order to lift the health and well-being of the entire community,” Wu said. “Even if you are well-to-do and fully insured, you are not immune to inequities in health care because you can’t live life in a bubble. At some level, we are all interacting – in schools, restaurants and stores. The pandemic really magnified that reality.”

Beyond issues of contagion and community spread, a society must address issues of dollars and cents. If the uninsured do not have access to basic health care and screenings for chronic diseases and cancers, their conditions will progress unchecked. Eventually, Wu noted, these people will need more expensive treatments that might even be administered too late.

“Our society doesn’t let people die on the doorsteps of hospitals, so large sums are spent on individuals who don’t have insurance,” Wu said. “This affects all of us. The cost is priced into our insurance premiums and tax dollars. It actually pays, then, to provide preventative, early care to everyone.”

A vital part of the Raise Health initiative is getting the word out about its comprehensive programs.

“Northern Westchester Hospital works hard to make its financial assistance options visible, so the community knows about them,” Wu said. “At Open Door, we never feel that Northern Westchester Hospital wants to throttle down the number of patients we refer. Instead of saying, ‘Call us when you need us,’ hospital staff reaches out to ask if we have anyone else who needs help. It’s a message that speaks volumes.”

To learn more about Northern Westchester Hospital, visit nwh.northwell.edu.

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