By Mark Hallum
Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray visited the Charles B. Wang Health Center in Flushing Tuesday to announce a $65 million expansion to the institution’s facility and services. The funding coincides with the ThriveNYC initiative for the city to support neighborhood medical support through community organizations serving a variety of nationalities.
The Wang Center at 136-26 37th Ave. has been in existence for nearly 50 years and during that time residents of the surrounding areas have been able to obtain critical medical care at an affordable rate, including mental health services. The improvements will include a new facility and services in languages such as Mandarin and Cantonese for an estimated pricetag of $65 million.
“People all over the country are watching Washington, D.C., watching what’s happening with the health care debate, and they’re worried. They’re worried and they’re afraid and they don’t know if they’ll lose the coverage that their families depend on. They don’t know if they’re going to be able to manage their diabetes, or pay for their counseling service, or pay for substance use treatment,” McCray said. “As New Yorkers we believe people shouldn’t have to be afraid, they shouldn’t have to empty their bank accounts when they get sick, and no matter how they came to our country and our city, people shouldn’t have to live in the shadows especially when it comes to health care.”
McCray and de Blasio cited the current battle over medical coverage at the federal level and said the city can be the exception to what they believe to be a disaster lurking on the horizon with the failed GOP healthcare bill the centerpiece of their remarks.
“While we continue to fight battles in Washington, I fundamentally believe the answer is to keep showing what things should be, to keep being a beacon here in this city of the way that we want to see a fair society created, to keep being the antidote,” de Blasio said. “It’s something we and other cities around the country have ample opportunity to do while these fights play out in Washington. Keep getting help to people who need it, keep creating a more inclusive and just society. That’s what we celebrate today.”
According to Wang Center CEO Jane Eng, lung cancer is one of the leading forms of cancer that Chinese Americans develop, while suicide is the ninth leading cause of death. Suicide is not in the top 10 causes of death for any other nationality, she said.
Primary care services for smokers and programs to assist people in quitting tobacco is part of a future initiative for the organization.
“There’s lots of people who have insurance but still don’t feel it’s easy to access health care because maybe geography or a language barrier or they just don’t understand how important it is to get care early before a problem develops into something bigger,” de Blasio said. “So, when you make health care more accessible to people, when it is at the grassroots, when it’s available, when it’s easy to reach, when it’s in your language people get healthier. It’s the whole concept of this place and that’s why this expansion is so important.”
Also attending the event was state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), Assemblyman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), who is openly gay, HIV positive and sober for eight years after recovering from drug addiction.
The mayor toured the borough and held city hall proceedings from Kew Gardens this week.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall