By Danielle Beurteaux
Millions of children in America lack adequate medical care. That puts not just their health in jeopardy, but their future. “Too few people realize how hard it is for kids in poor areas to realize their potential,” says Alex Karnal. “There are so many roadblocks, but the most fundamental is, if you’re not healthy, you can’t go to school.”
||Alex Karnal: The Deerfield partner joined the board of the Children’s Health Fund in 2011 (Photograph by Michael Rubenstein) |
Karnal, 30, is a partner at Deerfield Management, a $3.5 billion health care–focused fund. He was the first president of the Deerfield Foundation, created in 2007 by Deerfield employees to give to New York organizations that provide children’s health services. Among the many not-for-profits that Karnal researched — with, as he puts it, company-level due diligence — was the Children’s Health Fund. “All the people we met with there had such drive, enthusiasm and commitment,” he says.
Deerfield Foundation initially granted CHF $500,000 to build and renovate their clinic in the South Bronx, and it has continued its involvement, funding operating and capital projects. Deciding he wanted to deepen his contribution, Karnal joined the fund’s advisory council in 2008 and joined the board in 2011.
Founded in 1987 by pediatrician Irwin Redlener and musician Paul Simon, CHF started with a blue RV outfitted as a mobile medical unit, a traveling doctor’s office that went to New York’s children who didn’t have access to health care. The blue vans initially focused on homeless shelters. They now also visit domestic abuse shelters and send mobile teams to disaster areas, including the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The organization expanded in 1990 to New Jersey, and now there are CHFs in 16 states and Washington, D.C.
Disadvantaged children frequently face a raft of health problems, including chronic asthma, obesity and mental health issues, combined with a lack of accessible care, says Karnal. “The way you can help kids to be healthy is not just focusing on childhood obesity, not just focusing on asthma, not just focusing on primary care,” he explains. “You have to create a comprehensive medical home.”
Last year in New York, CHF helped 90,000 families and provided about 250,000 health visits. The organization has a fleet of 50 mobile medical units — each cost $400,000 to outfit — where it provides 30 percent of services, with the other 70 percent at its South Bronx clinics. Still, says Karnal, it’s not enough. “We have so much excess demand, it’s actually sad to talk about.”
Karnal is always thinking of expansion, and that means more funding. He headed a young professionals event in July to introduce more people to CHF’s work, and on October 4 co-founder Simon will headline a star-studded 25th anniversary benefit concert at Radio City Music Hall. “Our team works to the point of exhaustion, and we’re going to keep doing that,” Karnal says. “We’re going to keep trying to reach as many kids as we can.”