Pleasantville nonprofit provides free immunizations for children without insurance

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Child Federation R.J. Liberatore Jr. / Catherine Hopkins is part of the Child Federation team that helps the area’s uninsured children get the immunizations they need to attend school. PLEASANTVILLE – Caught between a skyrocketing need and declining donations, a local child immunization clinic continues its nearly 100-year-old tradition of providing care for area children.

“We do it because we love what we are doing,” said licensed practical nurse Catherine Hopkins of the Child Federation’s children’s immunization clinic at 18 Martin Luther King Jr. blvd. She started working for the organization as a volunteer and now serves as clinic supervisor.

The Child Federation offers the state-required immunizations and physicals free of charge for children who are without insurance so they can attend school, she said.

“There is a great need,” Hopkins said. “You can’t imagine.”

The need is so great that Hopkins saw children from Wildwood last year.

“Last year we administered 1,555 immunizations,” she said. “We are the area’s only clinic solely devoted to child immunizations.”

It was a record year for the clinic, said Hopkins, who administers the immunizations.

There are many reasons why.

According to recent U.S. Census figures, New Jersey has the nation’s second-highest rate of children living without health insurance at 10 percent.

“And it’s getting worse,” Hopkins said.

The economy is one of the reasons for the increasing number of children living without insurance, she said.

The declining casino industry has resulted in many former full-time workers now being dropped to part-time status. Although many are working a pair of part-time jobs, they lack the health care benefits that come with full-time employment.

“Many other employers are only hiring part-time,” she said. “Many other people, however, are still looking for any type of job and remain out of work.”

Without work, many people are choosing to spend money on rent, car payments and food before health care, she said.

“It’s Russian roulette,” she said.

The state requires several immunizations and a physical before a child can start school.

“That’s where we help,” Hopkins said.

If the timing works out right, Hopkins said she could “get a phone call on Monday and get a child in school on Friday.”

Hopkins said it all begins with a phone call from a parent or guardian.

Then the child and parent meet with Hopkins to verify the need for immunizations. Physicals and shots are given during the clinics, which are held on Wednesdays. Dr. Nisrin Q. Dahodwala, who specializes in pediatrics and adolescent medicine, conducts the physicals, Hopkins said.

“We only ask for basic identification,” she said. “We have to make sure the parent or legal guardian is here with the child, and we have to make sure of the child’s identification.”

The Child Federation is also seeing an increase in its caseload because of the immigration of people from across the world coming to Atlantic City in search of employment.

“We are seeing children without insurance who are moving here from Liberia, Haiti, Ghana, and the Dominican Republic,” she said. “Many of those countries don’t require the immunizations that we require.”

Without proper health care documentation, the children have to start over with their shots before they can start school here, she said. Service is provided without regard to citizenship status.

The Child Federation operates as a nonprofit and receives funds from New Jersey, the United Way, the Charity League and the Kiwanis of Atlantic City.

However, donations have dropped significantly as the local and national economy slowed in recent years, she said.

“If somebody wants to donate to a charity and wants to help out locally, why not us?” she said.

The Child Federation was founded in 1916 by Isadora Summers and became the state’s first organized service for infants and preschool children. The organization operated out of the American Ice Co. building at 2014 Arctic Ave. in Atlantic City. The clinic enrolled 332 babies into its program during its first year.

The Child Federation has been located inside a refurbished home on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard since 1993.

For information call Hopkins at (609) 272-1711, ext. 14.

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