Dozens of community leaders, elected officials, members of the New York Racing Association and Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association and Belmont racetrack backstretch workers gathered in Elmont to celebrate the new partnership between the Belmont Health Center and the Long Island Federally Qualified Health Center. Paul Ruchames, the executive director of the Backstretch Employee Assistance Team, said that the move to change the Belmont Health Center from a private clinic to a member of the Long Island FQHC was a lengthy process, but it ensured that the workers at Belmont will have affordable health coverage.
“It means more comprehensive care, more vaccines and more Spanish speaking staff available for them,” Ruchames said.
Ruchames described FQHCs as the original affordable care facilities before the Affordable Care Act was even conceived. FQHCs provide comprehensive medical services to underserved communities, which would allow the backstretch workers at Belmont —most of whom are immigrants living on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum — a chance to access more medical treatments than ever before.
“The BEST Health Center is the most important service we provide to our workers,” Andy Belfiore, the Executive Director of NYTHA, said. “They are very comfortable going to the clinic, when they might not seek treatment and advice at an outside facility.”
Because many of the backstretch employees had expressed an apathetic attitude towards their own health in the past, sometimes continuing to work even when they were sick, Ruchames explained that outreach would be one of the key goals for the newly improved Belmont Health Center. Last year, the clinics at Belmont and Saratoga saw close to 1,400 patients, and Ruchames see this as a show of success because it meant that the workers chose to rely on their own clinics rather than nearby hospitals, where employees would burden most of the medical costs.
As a member of the Long Island FQHC, the Belmont Health Center is open to the public. BEST will look to expand the hours of operation for the clinic and hope to add a pediatric clinic for the children of the backstretch workers.