Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center Serves Hell’s Kitchen Aging Population

Ryan Chlesea-Clinton Community Health Center, located at 645 10th Ave. | Photo courtesy of Ryan Chelsea-Clinton

BY MARK NIMAR | Getting older can be tough. As a New Yorker moves into old age, and her body starts to fail her, simple acts like climbing stairs, crossing a busy street, or even taking a shower can seem impossible. Difficulties leaving your apartment can also make it hard to see your friends and make new ones, an action that is crucial to offsetting the loneliness, depression, and anxiety that can negatively affect one’s mental and physical health.

But the Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center is working to address these issues. A division of New York’s Ryan Health Center, Ryan Chelsea-Clinton is a healthcare clinic in Hell’s Kitchen “dedicated to providing high quality, affordable, comprehensive” healthcare to “medically underserved populations,” according to its website. A vital presence in Hell’s Kitchen since 2001, Ryan Chelsea-Clinton treats 10,000 people per year, 15 percent of whom are uninsured and cannot find affordable primary care elsewhere. The Center, located at 645 10th Ave., between. W. 45th and 46th Sts., started addressing geriatric issues more aggressively as they saw the neighborhood’s population start to age.

“In Hell’s Kitchen, there are naturally occurring retirement communities,” said Daniel Pichinson, executive director of Ryan Chelsea-Clinton. “Due to low rents and rent stabilization” in buildings like Manhattan Plaza, “people stay” in the neighborhood a long time to avoid exorbitant rent prices elsewhere. As a result, the Hell’s Kitchen demographic of older residents has greatly increased in the last decade. To address this, Ryan Chelsea-Clinton has recently hired a new geriatric social worker and patient navigator.

Funded by a grant from the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, the geriatric social worker addresses issues such as “loneliness, social needs, and mobility issues” by providing “assessments for anxiety and depression, short term therapy,” and counseling on “advance directives.”

In addition, the patient navigator helps seniors through the often-complicated inner workings of the health care system, offering bilingual assistance for seniors’ issues with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The patient navigator also can provide things like wheelchairs or shower bars, and even offer repair services for these important mobility and safety items.

The services are having a positive impact on the community. Pichinson noted how, recently, a patient from the Center who had cancer and went through chemo “thanked me. They were stuck in their apartment. We had case managers go into the house, and do the assessments, and we got them the cane and walker they needed, and we got them out of the apartment. They said they felt like a prisoner in the apartment, and did not know what she’d do in a fire.”

Services do not only address physical health. Ryan Chelsea-Clinton has also started new programs at the clinic that improve mental health by “engaging the patient in non-traditional ways.” One such program is a monthly Bingo Night, which brings necessary social interaction, stimulating activity, and fun to the seniors of Hell’s Kitchen. Pichinson noted that a group activity like Bingo Night “provides social support” for seniors that can alleviate “behavioral health issues” like “anxiety and depression… indirectly.”

A Ryan Chelsea-Clinton employee asking a patient a question. | Photo courtesy of Ryan Chelsea-Clinton

Pichinson also noted that the idea of entering a health clinic can be intimidating for a prospective patient, and that an event like Bingo Night is a fun, friendly way to bring in “individuals that might not come into the Center” otherwise. So far, the Bingo Night initiative has been a huge hit. Pichinson recalled how, “Just recently, at the end, two people came up to me and said, ‘I wish you could do this every night. It feels so good to come out of my apartment and see people. It feels so good to be here.’ ” Bingo Night has been so popular that there has been talk of adding a Dominoes Night, and a Knitting Circle, to the Center’s already vibrant monthly calendar.  Such events are a point of pride for Ryan Chelsea-Clinton, because Bingo Night participants “who are [already] getting treatment or having physical health problems improve” as a result of their participation, Pichinson said, and added, “Behavioral health and physical health treatments [working] together produce good outcomes for individuals. If you influence their mental health, it influences their physical health as well.”

Another important issue addressed by Ryan Chelsea-Clinton HIV/AIDS prevention and care. Pichinson noted that the Center addresses HIV and AIDS aggressively, because Hell’s Kitchen has “higher rates of HIV than in other parts of the city” due to its robust LGBT population. “Ryan Health has been a leader in HIV prevention since the 1980s, and we continue that to this day,” Pichinson said.  Similar to its work addressing loneliness with a Bingo Night, Ryan Chelsea-Clinton has founded programs that educate the community about HIV in unconventional ways. “We have an outreach department, which does outreach in the bars in the neighborhood at 12 a.m., talking about HIV prevention.” At these informal bar meetings, and also at Pride events and various shelters in the neighborhood, the outreach department talks to community members about preventative medications like PrEP and PEP, and about the importance of using condoms when having sex.

Daniel Pichinson, executive director of Ryan Chelsea-Clinton. | Photo courtesy of Ryan Chelsea-Clinton

Inside the Health Center, Pichinson stated, “We serve anyone who walks through our doors. We have several physicians and practitioners certified by the DOH [Department of Health] as HIV specialists. They are certified to provide the highest quality of care in the city. Ninety-four percent of our patients are virally suppressed.” Their success at treating and preventing HIV is reflective of a larger trend happening in New York State. This year “is the first year that New York has seen a decline in the number of HIV diagnoses,” according to the Center’s website. If things continue in this direction, New York State may meet Governor Andrew Cuomo’s goal of ending the epidemic once and for all by the year 2020. Ryan Chelsea-Clinton is “engaged and optimistic” about meeting this goal, Pichinson said.

Pichinson does not take a day of work at Ryan Chelsea-Clinton for granted. “Working here is a privilege,” he said, “because you get to prevent people from getting sick, and help people get better. You can’t say that in a lot jobs,” he noted. Pichinson is also proud that Ryan Chelsea-Clinton reaches people from all different walks of life, as evidenced by its clientele’s great social and ethnic diversity. “The vast diversity in the patient populations who walks through our door is amazing,” he said. “Sometimes when I am in the lobby, I see families from Yemen wearing burkas [next to] big muscular guys wearing short-shorts. And everyone is getting along well and dandy, waiting for their providers… [You see that] we all just want to feel well and be treated right as human beings.”

And with that, Pichinson hung up the phone and went back to work fighting for the health of the neighborhood.

A Ryan Chelsea-Clinton practitioner taking a patient’s blood pressure. | Photo courtesy of Ryan Chelsea-Clinton

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