SOUTHERN OCEAN – The dilemma represents a real one for too many local residents. Despite working multiple jobs, a number of southern Ocean County workers do not have enough money left from their regular earnings to cover more than the basic necessities.
One would think that medical insurance would be among the essentials. Surely, income limitations serve as the criteria for free or reduced health insurance.
The sad truth is that households whose incomes fall below the federal poverty level do not necessarily qualify for government programs. Many families forego medical care, because they simply can’t afford coverage and remain uninsured.
“ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” explained Lyndsay Hall, APN, WHNP-BC, Executive Director of Coastal Volunteers in Medicine. “It is a term for defining and understanding the struggles of households that earn above the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford a bare-bones household budget.
“These individuals earn too little to afford out-of-pocket insurance costs but are also not eligible for federally-subsidized healthcare programs,” continued Hall. “ALICE is your childcare worker, the cashier at the supermarket, the gas attendant, the salesperson at your big box store, your waitress, a home health aide, an office clerk. ALICE cannot always pay the bills, has little or nothing in savings, and is forced to make tough choices such as deciding between quality childcare or paying the rent.”
Coastal Volunteers in Medicine seeks to address the needs of this segment of the Southern Ocean County population. The organization began as the brainchild of Sheila Rich-Mazzeo in 2009. Although Mazzeo, a nurse practitioner, has since relocated out of state, she remains an active participant in the program.
“Hackensack Meridian Health Care has been gracious enough to donate office space to us,” Hall shared. “We are currently looking for other space and hope to find some in Barnegat.”
A team of volunteers that includes doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and social workers, meet with eligible clients at Coastal’s office located at 730 Lacey Road, Suite G6 in Forked River. Primary care consultations occur one full day a week. Mental health counseling is available, and an advanced practice nurse manages medication.
Only two part time paid staff members and only one hourly paid staff member are on Coastal’s payroll.
The 60-70 volunteers that stand behind the organization’s operation extend beyond healthcare professionals to include administrative staff.
Two churches have offered their support to the Costal mission. Both the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and St. Francis Roman Catholic Church partner with the volunteer organization.
“We also have a referral partnership with Seaview Orthopedics,” said Hall. “We are always looking for specialty partners to help our patients.”
The program sponsors an eye clinic every other month to perform eye exams. Women’s health issues are addressed by way of PAP smear screenings and mammograms. Nutrition counseling is available for diabetics.
Patients who seek treatment from the volunteer group are all under 65 and range from children to middle aged adults. Undocumented workers receive the same care as others who need medical treatment.
“We treat a lot of people with diabetes, as well as hypertension,” Hall said. “These are the most chronic issues that we see most frequently.”
When it comes to prescribing medications, volunteer providers try to select medicines that are the most affordable. A volunteer assists patients with paperwork associated with prescription assistance programs. Hospital referrals include processing information for charity care.
Jay Greco, the owner of Jersey Shore Pharmacy, sits as a member of the Coastal Volunteer’s executive board. He provides patients their medications at cost if they are unable to afford them.
A number of patient testimonials appear on the organization’s website. Hall personally recalls how a client’s life was likely saved when volunteers picked up a cancer diagnosis. Another patient named Bob said that as a result of the treatment he received from Coastal Volunteers, he was able to avoid a heart attack.
Eligibility for service at no cost is based on Federal Poverty Guidelines multiplied by 300%. A family of four would meet the requisite criteria if their gross weekly earnings were less than $1,529 according to the 2021 guidelines.
In order to qualify for treatment, clients must show proof of residency in any of the following zip codes: Barnegat 08005; Barnegat Light 08006; Chatsworth 08019; Eagleswood 08092; Forked River 08731; Lanoka Harbor 08734; Little Egg Harbor 08087; Long Beach Island 08008; Manahawkin 08050; New Gretna 08224; Tuckerton 08087; Waretown 08758 and West Creek 08092.
“Our funding is all from individual donors, corporations, and grants,” shared Hall. “We don’t receive any government grants.”