For seniors like Ester Branch, 81, getting to the doctor can be difficult.

Like many people her age, the 81-year old resident of Pavilion House on Prospect Street in East Orange, has difficultly getting around and would rather not leave the comfort of her senior building for her monthly doctor visits.

So Branch enrolled in the Community Health Outreach Program (CHOP) founded by Dr. Alexander Salerno, an internist affiliated with Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark.

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The program was started in 2002 as a way to deliver healthcare to patients in the community, rather than in a hospital setting. CHOP has become one of the longest-running house-call programs in the region.

“When I first started working as a doctor, I realized there were a of seniors who couldn’t get out whether because of weather, or not feeling well, or transportation,” Salerno said. “So I just started doing house calls. Over time, I’ve added more services and now that we’re affiliated with Saint Michael’s, it’s really allowed us to bring healthcare from brick and mortar to the communities where people live.”

Every month, medical staff who work for CHOP visit more than a dozen senior buildings in Newark and East Orange, where they provide full physicals, a host of medical tests and renew prescriptions right on site. 

“It’s very convenient coming downstairs,” Branch said. “I don’t have to get dressed up and go out in the weather. I also like the way the staff treats you, the doctors, the nurses. When you need tests, they bring the people here to the building.”

Saint Michael’s provides an account representative to work with patients to schedule appointments if a specialist, or more complicated tests are required, such as an MRI or CT-scan. It’s part of the hospital’s outreach to the community.

“I am the link between the patient and their health care needs,” said Lauretta Mosley, a patient account representative at Saint Michael’s who works closely with CHOP.

Moseley not only makes appointments and schedules tests at the hospital, but she also sets up transportation and makes calls to patients to remind them about their appointments.

“Not only are we helping them, but they see us as the face of their healthcare,” Moseley said. “This program helps give them a voice. We are their biggest advocates. We build trust with them.”

Mary Ellen Roberts, a nurse practitioner who works for the program, said many of the patients she sees would otherwise not have the same level of medical care.

“These patients don’t want to go and sit in an office and wait an hour or two hours to see a physician,” Robert said. “Here they come down, I see them, they go back upstairs to their room. Or sometimes they sit here and socialize and it’s a nice way for us to get to know them in a different light, not only as a patient.”

Another bonus for the patients is that a pharmacist also comes with the team.

Raul Molina, a pharmacist at DeRosa Pharmacy, said he can advise on the spot whether a medication is covered by the patients insurance.

The CHOP program also works with many behavioral health centers, delivering primary care to behavioral health patients alongside with social workers and psychiatrist . For the last five years, CHOP has partnered with Essex County Behavioral Health in Essex and Passaic counties.

“Behavioral health patients have the greatest disparity when it comes to primary care access,” Salerno said.

Salerno said the CHOP has improved the quality of life for seniors by keeping them healthy and out of emergency rooms and nursing homes.

“Some studies show over 95 percent of folks want to live and die at home,” Salerno said. “But more than 70 percent of folks die in hospitals or nursing homes. With people living longer they should live better on their own terms. That’s the purpose of the CHOP program.”