A delegation of leading officials from Amerigroup/Wellpoint NJ Community Health Care spent two days in Lakewood, where they had a jam-packed schedule of meetings with community leaders, tours of important community venues, and more. The group was led by Dr. Patrick Fox, CEO of Wellpoint NJ (which recently changed its name to Wellpoint from Amerigroup but is still best known to many simply as “Amerigroup”).
Dr. Fox assumed this position of leadership a few months ago and has been eager to personally visit Lakewood and get a glimpse of the strong partnerships between Wellpoint and the Lakewood community, as well as to meet with community activists and leaders in order to get a better understanding of how he can be of help and how to further the partnership.
Wellpoint, the largest healthcare group in the area, has been giving back to Lakewood and working together with residents and local businesses in many ways over the past six years. Since becoming part of the Lakewood community, they have been partnering with the community to keep the Lakewood area safe and healthy and have cohosted numerous communal events, as well as sponsoring many local organizations. The opening of their Community Care Center in downtown Lakewood last year was another next step in their commitment to this bond with the greater Lakewood community.
The Community Care Center on Clifton Ave. has become a hub for Amerigroup members who are insured by them. The center is a headquarters for members of the insurance plan to meet with representatives and receive whatever assistance they need to find resources, referrals, doctor recommendations, find medical professionals in the network, obtain insurance cards and more.
Additionally, the location is used for health education classes and training sessions. Courses thus far given at the center include CPR, Narcam, midwife and doula training, etc. The center also has hosted drives to signup for programs such as a SNAP and WIC, as well as food drives and other initiatives. Part of the center is also made available to other communal organizations, free of charge. Thus, the center is just one more way that Amerigroup is showing their dedication to the Lakewood community and is a sign of the community atmosphere they have created and the strong, friendly relationship they have nurtured.
The delegation arrived in Lakewood on Thursday and began their visit with a stop at one of the local day care centers. Dr. Fox and the other Wellpoint/Amerigroup representatives expressed their amazement upon witnessing how committed to the youth the Lakewood community truly is.
“This is a unique community,” Dr. Fox said. “There are literally tens of thousands of children under the age of 18, and all of the families and schools are so happy and emotionally healthy. It would be hard to believe if I had not seen it for myself.”
The next stop was a roundtable conversation about the educational needs of the community, which was followed by a trip to CHEMED. The delegation met with the medical staff and lay leadership of the community medical facility, as well as with Assemblyman Avi Schnall, who described CHEMED as “one of the jewels of Lakewood that has proven itself to be extremely committed to the health of every resident.”
They were given a full tour of the health center, including the pediatric department, dental department, and many other departments, and got to see the doctors, nurses and staff in action.
One member of the delegation said, “Wellpoint is committed to tailoring our services to the specific needs of every community we serve. In Lakewood, it was very helpful to visit a health center like CHEMED, where we got a glimpse into the specific health needs of the Lakewood community and how they are being provided for. Partnering with them will definitely help us serve the community as best as we can.”
From there, the group was given a special tour of BMG. They entered quietly through the back door of Bais Yitzchok, so as not to disturb the learning, and went up to the Ezras Nashim to get a view of the seder.
“Bais Medrash Govoha was a real sight to see,” said Dr. Fox. “I can honestly say that I have never seen anyone study with such intensity or so loudly – and to see hundreds of young scholars studying with such enthusiasm is beyond description.
“I truly got the feeling that this is one of the main things that makes Lakewood so unique. No one is forcing these young men to do what they do. They do it because they love scholarship and love their religion, and they and their families are ready to devote their lives to this high calling. And they are so happy to lead this kind of life! It is really incredible to be associated with a community like this!”
They then headed to the Misameach Center, where they were amazed at the scope of the organizations work. Amerigroup has a longstanding relationship with Misameach and has sponsored a number of their projects over the year. Most recently, they were a corporate sponsor for this year’s Misameach Mid-Winter Event in American Dream Mall and, during this visit, they presented Misameach with a check for that sponsorship.
During the visit, they discussed Misameach’s new Family Center, which is nearing completion, and spoke about future plans to continue the connection between Wellpoint and this wonderful community resource. They also enjoyed trying out some of Misameach’s arcades and games, which the Misameach families enjoy so much.
Lipa Schwartz of Misameach said, “I want to say thank you to Dr. Fox of Wellpoint/Amerigroup and their staff for all of the crucial services they provide to the community in general and to our special cause in particular. Amerigroup has been closely involved with the work of Misameach for years and I thank them for all that they do.”
The delegation then paid a visit to the offices of Dr. Chuna Chaim (Howard) Lebowitz of the Long-Term Acute Care (LTAC) Specialty Hospital of Central Jersey, which occupies two floors upstairs in Monmouth Medical Center South Hospital (formerly Kimbal Hospital). They met with Dr. Lebowitz and Dr. Johnathon Cohen to hear more about the medical needs of the community.
Dr. Cohen stated, “It is so important for medical providers to have access to high-ranking officials in the top insurance companies, as this allows us to customize care for patients, especially for those facing serious conditions and treatments. Wellpoint has been a true friend and is working hand-in-hand with us, with an eye towards providing each patient with his or her personal care.”
A Wellpoint representative said, “Dr. Lebowitz’s office epitomizes what value for human life truly means. It is incredible to see how much he and his staff care for every patient and every family, as many of them deal with life-and-death issues. I can see that many patients are alive today because of Dr. Lebowitz. He truly personifies what a community doctor is all about, and it is our honor to partner with him in his work.”
They then went downstairs to meet with the leadership of Monmouth Medical Center South, and had a productive conversation regarding future cooperation on various projects in upcoming months.
The next stop was the Hatzolah garage, where Wellpoint sponsored a LifePak (portable all-in-one heart monitor, EKG and defibrillator).
“It is amazing how many lives a device like this cane save,” Dr. Fox said. “I encourage everyone who can to donate one to Hatzolah. Anyone who does so is investing in saving lives – and that is truly the best investment you could ever make.”
During the visit, they met with Hatzolah’s new CEO, Elimelech Esterzohn, as well as with the administration and some volunteers, and were given a tour of the garage. They were shown how many calls Hatzolah receives every day and how many lives they save, and were awed by the great work Hatzolah does on a daily basis.
The final stop of the packed Thursday schedule was a meeting in Town Hall with Lakewood Police and Deputy Mayor Menashe Miller. The Wellpoint representatives thanked Lakewood law enforcement for helping them organize their downtown center and making sure the population can reach the new offices.
Deputy Mayor Miller said, “The partnership between both Lakewood Township and Lakewood Police and Amerigroup is very strong. We are working on many projects together and I can attest that not a day goes by that we aren’t in touch.”
On Monday, the delegation returned to get to the stops they didn’t make it to on Thursday,
They were given a tour of the Lakewood Matzoah Bakery, where they met the BMG Roshei Yeshiva, who were baking matzohs at the time. They were clearly impressed by the huge operation.
They then returned to the downtown Wellpoint Health Center, where they held a very positive conversation with numerous officials, including Mayor Ray Coles, Jo Schloeder from Congressman Chris Smith’s office, Ocean County Commissioner Director Barbara Jo Crea, Ocean County Commissioner Frank Sadeghi, Lakewood Township Committeeman Isaac Akerman, BOE members, and others. The attendees went through a list of initiatives that Wellpoint will be undertaking in conjunction with the local community over the next few months and everyone expressed appreciation for the dedication shown for the safety, security and health of every resident of Lakewood.
Mayor Coles told Dr. Fox and the other representatives, “It is great to work together with you for the benefit of our residents. Thank you for your faith in our town. I look forward to continuing to work with you.”
No visit to Lakewood for Wellpoint would be complete without a stop at Dr. Shanik’s office, which was the next destination on Monday. Dr. Shanik took time out of his busy schedule of seeing patients to greet the delegation. He thanked them for supporting his community initiative, Ahavas Tzedakah, and the delegation pledged to maintain their sponsorship for this year’s Pesach Program.
“We have seen the work of Dr. Shanik’s community involvement,” one member of the group said. “It is genuinely grassroots assistance for those who need a hand in the community. In general, we have seen how Dr. Shanik and so many other professionals in Lakewood are available to their community at any time of day. They don’t work 9-5. They don’t even work 9-11. They are even available in the middle of the night if needed. They literally have no hours. They are just always on call.”
This idea was also seen at the next stop on the schedule – a visit with Yitzy from Madison Pharmacy, who told them about how he is able to help scores of residents obtain needed medicine at all hours.
They then headed to Tru Ob/Gyn, where they were given a tour and were impressed to learn more about this community resource, where so many local women are choosing to have their babies. They were happy to hear that the founder of Tru Birth, Dr. Clara Surowitz, has recently expanded her operation by becoming affiliated with Jersey Shore Medical Center, where hundreds of babies are now delivered a year. They expressed amazement at how low the C-Section rate is and how great the care is for every patient, saying that it is their privilege to be associated with Tru Birth for many years.
The group was thoroughly awed by their visit to the Special Children’s Center, where they were given a tour, met with the staff and personally joined in singing and dancing with the special needs children.
“I have never seen a model like this anywhere else,” one official in the delegation said. “We spent much more time in the Special Children’s Center then we had planned because we enjoyed playing and singing with the children so much. They all had huge smiles on their faces and clearly love going there every day.”
Finally, the group visited the headquarters of Lev Rochel Bikur Cholim, where they were given a tour by Rabbi Meir Brull. They were told about how Bikur Cholim of Lakewood had grown from their first home, in a small, old house, to the beautiful facility they have today, and from where they operate their myriad of services, including providing beautiful accommodations for families of patients, send out food to many hospitals and house their huge medical equipment Gemach.
Wellpoint has been a partner of Bikur Cholim for years and they proudly donated a brand-new transportation van during this visit. A moving ribbon cutting ceremony was held, attended by many Bikur Cholim volunteers, led by Director Rabbi Yehuda Kaszirer.
Rabbi Kaszirer said, “It is truly amazing to have Amerigroup as our friend and partner. It’s really a dream come true. I wish them tremendous success in continuing to provide healthcare and so many other services to the entire Lakewood community.”
Bikur Cholim presented Wellpoint with a plaque that will hang in in the downtown health center, with text that summarizes what it means to the community to have within it an insurance company that cares so much and is so personally involved in touch with the community’s needs.
The partnership between Wellpoint and the Lakewood community has already benefitted so many, and the two-day trip showed that this connection remains strong and will surely continue for years to come.