May 9, 2018
Work On Wilmington is led by the Chamber of Commerce in partnership with community organizations and agencies to create meaningful, hands on service projects that improve quality of life and achieve tangible results.
Work on Wilmington was held for the 13th year on April 25, 2018 when over 1,000 volunteers came out to support the goal of Making Wilmington a Better Place to Live. 35 of those volunteers from PPD were at MedNorth to assist with the interior painting efforts.
Althea Johnson returns to Wilmington to run New Hanover County’s only FQHC
BY CHERYL L. SERRA PHOTO BY TERAH WILSON
Althea Johnson has come ‘home’ in order to help run an organization aimed at providing people of all ages access to a comprehensive variety of health care services they wouldn’t normally have, something she thinks is a right.
Johnson is CEO of New Hanover Community Health Center, Inc., doing business as MedNorth Health Center, the only federally qualified health center (FQHC) in the county, located on North Fourth Street.
A FQHC qualifies for federal funding and enhanced reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid because it serves an underserved area or population, offers a sliding fee schedule, provides comprehensive services, and has an ongoing quality assurance program and a governing board of directors. Its safety net services are often provided in an outpatient facility.
Johnson had a circuitous health-related career before returning to Wilmington in 2004. Originally from the city, she left to go to Shaw University and then moved to New Jersey where she worked for 20 years for Plainfield Neighborhood Health Services Corporation, an FQHC in New Jersey, eventually serving as COO. She also earned a master’s degree in management from New Jersey Institute of Technology.
She then went to Atlanta hoping to do something a bit different in the healthcare field and earned another bachelor’s degree from DeVry University in information technology, thinking she would work in health-related informatics, which would help her run her own reports. She uses the skills she learned there today.
Returning to Wilmington because her father was ill, Johnson worked for the New Hanover County Health Department as a health planner. In 2007, Johnson started her position as MedNorth’s deputy director, a position for which her 20 years in an FQHC and her other experience “uniquely qualified” her, she said. Her title was later changed to COO and now she’s CEO.
She sees her job as eliminating barriers to health care, pure and sometimes not so simple. Primary care is – or should be – the appropriate entry point for health care, she says. From there, patients at MedNorth can access a range of health care services available to people of all ages: adult and family medicine, dental care, women’s health, pediatric services, on-site pharmacy, and prenatal care. MedNorth recently added podiatry to this menu of services and Johnson notes there is a large diabetic population in the area and many of them suffer from foot issues.
“Having everything here in the same building helps to accommodate what they need,” Johnson says, referring to the onsite facilities for lab work, dental and behavioral health services, to name a few. “I think if you had to go to many different places that might present a problem.”
In addition, for those who are seeking behavioral health help and are weary of the stigma attached to it, having the words “behavioral health” or something similar on the door might be off-putting. Under MedNorth’s model, a person who comes to visit a clinical provider can learn about behavioral health services and be introduced to providers; it’s an integrated, interdisciplinary team approach to providing healthcare.
Johnson points to the statistic showing that 27 percent of MedNorth patients have Medicaid, which many physicians don’t accept, as a way to illustrate what MedNorth does for the community. Nationwide, she says, many states expanded Medicaid eligibility; North Carolina did not. An individual or family can qualify for an FQHC discount if the household income is 200 percent of federal poverty level, currently at $20,780, or less.
There are many people in the Wilmington area who fall into that category, according to Johnson.
She talks about the Wilmington area having many service industry jobs at which folks make minimum wage or slightly above it. There are also many self-employed people, including those in the building industry and the arts. Many of them are responsible for their own health care costs.
“They’re not making enough money,” to pay for insurance, she says. “Gone are the days when your employer is paying 100 percent of your insurance cost; all of that cost has shifted to the employee.”
Johnson believes universal health care is the answer, ensuring access to health care to all, although she acknowledges this is a politicized debate.
Asked if she’s disheartened by the position so many people are in related to their health care, Johnson says there are a lot of aspects that health care providers can’t control, such as patients’ health care literacy and proximity to supermarkets that offer healthy food at affordable prices. So she focuses on what they can control, at least to a degree.
“I’m not disheartened,” she says. “There are a lot of different organizations that are working together to improve the health of residents.”
To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, visit www.terahwilson.com.
Want more WILMA? Sign up for our WILMA Weekly email and announcements at WILMAOnTheWeb.com.
Dr. Mayra Alicia Overstreet Galeano and her family fled war-torn Nicaragua in 1985.
In 1985, Dr. Mayra Alicia Overstreet Galeano fled war-torn Nicaragua with her family. She was only 9.
The Sandinistas had confiscated the family’s personal belongings. They left with just three suitcases and their parents’ advice: “The only thing that can’t be taken from you is your education.”
Galeano would make the most of her education in America, getting a scholarship to college and then going to medical school.
But it was difficult in the beginning. Galeano and her family settled in Tennessee with an aunt who helped get all the paperwork for them to come to the United States as refugees.
Going from a tiny island off the coast of Nicaragua to the mountains of Tennessee was a culture shock for Galeano. At the time, her family was one of only three Spanish-speaking families in the county. Her English was limited; she only had a few crash courses before beginning elementary school.
For Galeano, her elementary school experience was a great one. The school she attended was very accommodating to her family and they went above and beyond to welcome them. She remembers her principal giving her rides to after-school sports activities and even purchasing her a pair of running shoes.
Her family knew the struggles of being refugees and a low-income family. They had no insurance and it wasn’t until she was 15 that she had the chance to visit a dentist. With the encouragement of her parents, she and her siblings did very well academically and after graduating from high school she was awarded a scholarship to attend Duke University. At the time, she had not planned on becoming a doctor, but knew she wanted to serve families who struggled like hers.
Galeano graduated from Duke in 1999 with a degree in biology and had planned to do HIV research until an opportunity opened for her to work for the Children’s Environmental Health Initiative.
As a result of her scholarship to Duke, she met a faculty member that received funding from the CDC for a project to study lead exposure in children. There was a need for a Spanish-speaking person with a science background. As part of the job, they would be doing an analysis of data and also going into homes to collect samples of paint. A lot of the homes were lower-income, Spanish-speaking families. Galeano was perfect for the job.
During her time working with the Children’s Health Initiative, Galeano was studying the social determinants of health and trying to find ways to address them to change the outcomes for the underserved families she was working with.
According to the CDC, economic and social conditions influence the health of people and communities. These conditions are shaped by the amount of money, power, and resources people have, all of which are influenced by policy choices.
During the course of her work, Galeano noticed a need to address the immediate health care concerns of these underserved families and came to the conclusion that until these needs were met they would not be able to address the larger issues affecting their health.
The families she worked with were struggling with health concerns such as asthma due to mold in the home. The mold issue had to be addressed but asthma needed to be treated first. These pressing issues were stopping the families from addressing the cause of asthma.
“Being able to address the immediate health care concerns, I thought, would help me better advocate for addressing the social determinants of health,” Galeano said. At that moment, Galeano decided to go to medical school.
In 2011, Galeano graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine. She then began her family medicine residency at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. She completed her residency in 2014 but stayed for one more year to do a faculty development fellowship. After completing her fellowship in 2015, she remained at OHSU and taught for a year until she moved to Wilmington in March 2016.
A few key factors led Galeano to Wilmington. “I grew up on an island so being close to the beach and seafood is really good,” Galeano said. “I get to, professionally, do the things that I want to do as well.”
Galeano wanted to be in a position where she could teach, do prenatal care and deliveries, and serve a population similar to the one she came from. She now teaches in the Family Medicine Residency Program at New Hanover Regional Medical Center and is a family physician at MedNorth.
“For me, I understood the importance of family health, understanding how my family was affected by the war and how the community affects your health as well,” Galeano said. “It’s been an important part of my career and my personal life. It’s incredibly rewarding.
“Health doesn’t come just from a pill. It really comes from your community and from a better understanding of how you fit in the world.”
Getting to know: Dr. Mayra Alicia Overstreet Galeano
Hobbies: Running, reading, cooking, Latin dancing, hiking
Bucket list: Traveling
Health care tip: “Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do. Taking care of yourself, ideally, would include healthy eating, drinking water, staying active, and staying connected. Connected to your community but also to yourself, being aware of who you are, what’s important for your health, and what brings you joy.”