WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Minorities seem to be falling behind when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine roll out, but a nonprofit healthcare provider is working to make sure they don’t miss their chance.
MedNorth isn’t your average primary healthcare provider; they’re much more.
“We have podiatry, dentistry; we do women’s health, and of course family medicine,” said Israel Mendez, PA-C.
Even that doesn’t quite cover what the staff offers to their patients. From behavioral health to pediatrics, MedNorth has its patients covered. Doctors accept both the insured and uninsured and have fluent Spanish-speaking providers available. Doctors offer a bit of comfort to the patients, letting them know they’re in a place where people understand.
“Coming from a state association, I felt that there was a need for me to work directly with patients,” said Sharon Brown-Singleton, director of clinical operations. “This is where I grew up in this population, being under-served, uninsured.”
For that reason, it’s almost personal for staff members to take care of marginalized communities. That only became more important as the pandemic hit and vaccines started to roll out, and minorities weren’t getting in line for their dose.
“Religious reasons — meaning their pastor may have told them ‘not a good idea to get vaccinated,’ uncertainty about the vaccine since it’s emergency use authorization,” said Brown-Singleton. “Side effects are some of the concerns that we’re hearing.”
That’s why MedNorth is not just in the office to take questions, they’re in the neighborhoods that need answers the most.
“We’ve partnered with the housing authority here in New Hanover County to offer three big events that are upcoming end of May and the beginning of June,” said Brown-Singleton. “We’re going to target some of the historically marginalized housing in New Hanover County.”
MedNorth has several vaccination events coming up in Wilmington Housing Authority neighborhoods:
Friday, May 21: Creekwood South, 2-5 p.m.
Friday, June 4: Rankin Terrace, 2-5 p.m.
Friday, June 11: Houston Moore, 2-5 p.m.
“Something amazing we’re doing as well is we have a list of patients who are not as mobile and can’t leave their homes and eventually going to meet them at their house and vaccinate,” said Mendez.
MedNorth’s efforts have made a difference. Statistics show that MedNorth is one of the top providers in the area when it comes to reaching minorities with 40 percent of its first vaccine doses going to the community’s historically marginalized populations.
Khadijia Tribié Reid, MD, MPH Pediatrician and public health advocate
Published 6:30 am ET Mar 12,2021
Last month, Carolina’s Cape Fear region received big news. Basketball icon Michael Jordan donated $10 million to Novant Health to build two primary care clinics in New Hanover County. He delegated these dollars to create clinics that will provide primary and mental healthcare in the same space. This model is called integrated primary–behavioral care. As a physician, I can testify that expanding integrated care is just what the doctor ordered.
Under an integrated care model, medical providers, counselors, psychiatrists, and social workers collaborate to get patients what they need to be healthy. This model recognizes the link between medical and physical health. As a professional, integrated care has revolutionized the way I practice medicine. Here are just a few ways providers can use primary-behavioral health integration.
MedNorth Health Center is proud to have partnered with Mission Mobile Medical to expand our services to include a medical mobile unit. While it has served as the center of our COVID-19 testing efforts, we know that the mobile unit will contribute to our mission of expanding access to care for all.
By Kendall McGee|September 19, 2020 at 10:01 PM EDT – Updated September 20 at 4:16 PM
Full Storyand Video: https://www.wect.com/2020/09/19/first-year-cape-fear-fights-eliminate-racial-disparities-infant-mortality-rates/
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A task force comprised of local health advocates and physicians are banding together to address concerning racial gaps in the Cape Fear’s infant mortality rates.
Black infants are less likely to survive to their first birthday than white infants. North Carolina is the 11th worst state in the nation for infant death with a consistent and stagnant gap in outcomes among African Americans and Non-Hispanic whites.
After a 2018 report highlighting the racial disparities in infant mortality rates, New Hanover Regional Medical Center identified eliminating those gaps as a top priority. The effort has grown since then and blossomed into a robust network of helpers, known as First Year Cape Fear.
“Knowing that babies are dying –Black babies are dying at a higher rate and that Black moms are also dying at a higher rate is really striking. It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating to know, especially because we know the root cause of this is racism,” said First Year Cape Fear’s lead, Marissa Bryant Franks.
Franks is also the health equity outreach coordinator at NHRMC.
In New Hanover County, Black babies are 2.3 times more likely to die in their first year of life than white babies. In Columbus County its 2.2 times, and in Pender County, Black babies are 4.8 times more likely to die than white infants.
Dr. Naomi Flock is a community family physician at Med North who serves as a physician voice for First Year Cape Fear.
“I just don’t think there’s a way to deny it when you really talk to these moms and hear what they’ve experienced,” said Dr. Flock.
According to the organization, Black women in the Cape Fear experience higher rates of preterm birth, cesarean delivery, maternal chronic disease, and face obstacles related to breastfeeding and accessing prenatal care.
Doctors agree the metric of infant mortality is an indicator of a much more widespread problem.
“Infant mortality is really that reflection of the overall health of society so that’s just a snapshot a pulse a mirror image of what’s going on,” said Dr. Naomi Flock.
To change the outcome for Black infants, First Year Cape Fear is focusing on making sure Black mothers have the care and support they need. The group is asking for mothers to tell their stories and pushing forward with research, awareness campaigns and education for providers and families alike.
“We’re working on organizing some sessions to learn from moms to hear from them ‘what is your experience in navigating the healthcare system what are some of the things that maybe you’ve experienced as far as bias in the care that you received and the quality of care that you received?’” said Franks.
Franks hopes that by listening to the stories of mothers in the community, First Year Cape Fear can come up with strategies to improve the quality of care families receive and also connect black mothers to the resources they need to have healthy pregnancies and raise healthy babies.
This summer, the group secured a grant to bring in a community health worker and two dulas to serve needy mothers. The program will help 30 women each year for the next two years and is expected to kick off in October.
While the grant is a big step, Franks says its just the beginning of their journey.
“As a community we have to band together to combat this issue just as we would any other public health crisis or a public health issue because once again this is all rooted in racism. We’ve seen racism bubble up in so many ways just this year alone throughout our country and when we look at things that are happening In our communities it’s easy to turn a blind eye to things like infant mortality,” said Franks.
“MedNorth continues to celebrate National Health Center Week by recognizing Children’s Health Awareness. Here is a reminder from our Pediatric Medical Director, Dr. Khadijia Tribié, about the importance of well child visits and keeping up with immunizations. For children who do not need vaccines, your child can be seen by virtual appointment using Telehealth. Don’t skip your next well child visit! Contact us if you are in need of an appointment.”
WILMINGTON – The Wilmington Lions Club will offer free vision screenings and hearing screenings, 2 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday, Oct 3, in front of the MedNorth Health Center, 925 N. Fourth St.
The screenings that take place on the unit are screenings only, and should not be confused with complete eye examinations or hearing exams. The vision and hearing screenings will be held on the NC Vision Mobile Unit.
The NC Mobile Unit properly named The 21st Century Mobile Screening Unit, continues to be a great asset to the communities throughout North Carolina.
The 21st Century Vision Mobile Unit allows Lions Clubs to accomplish many worthwhile objectives, the most important of which is the early detection of vision problems.
The Vision Van is available to all Lions Clubs in North Carolina to conduct vision screenings in their communities For more information on the Wilmington Lions Club,//e-clubhouse.org/ sites/wilmingtonnclionsclub/ index.php or https://www.facebook.com/ wilmingtonnclionsclub/.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is awarding nearly $107 million in Quality Improvement Awards to 1,273 health centers across the US. MedNorth Health Center is among those award recipients.
“(These) awards recognize especially high-achieving health centers. America’s health centers are essential to producing results on our actionable public health challenges, like HIV/AIDS and the opioid crisis, as well as to building a healthcare system that delivers better value and puts the patient at the center”, said HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
Quality Improvement Awards recognize the work that health centers do to address health priorities by designating health centers that ranked in the top 1 – 2% in one or more key areas – behavioral health, diabetes prevention and management, and heart health – as National Quality Leaders. The awards also recognize achievements in improving cost-efficient care delivery while increasing quality, reducing health disparities, increasing both the number of patients served and patients’ ability to access comprehensive services, advancing use of health information technology, and delivering patient-centered care.
The awards, totaling $58,000, were for projects that address issues in the realm of health and wellness, WIN’s grant focus for 2019.
Five New Hanover County-based nonprofit organizations have received grants from Women’s Impact Network of New Hanover County (WIN). The grantees were introduced at WIN’s annual Grants Celebration Luncheon May 23.
The awards, totaling $58,000, were for projects that address issues in the realm of health and wellness, WIN’s grant focus for 2019.
MedNorth and Nourish NC each received a $24,000 grant.
MedNorth, which primarily serves the county’s uninsured and underinsured population with primary care, dental services and behavioral health care, plans to use its grant to enhance its services through purchases in four areas, according to CEO Althea Johnson:
blood pressure monitors for patients who will use them to manage and report their blood pressure.
Car seats for newborns whose families cannot afford them. Althea Johnson, MedNorth CEO, believes that having a car seat will encourage more new mothers to bring their newborns to the clinic within the first five days of birth for well-baby checks, and to visit the clinic themselves for post-natal checkups.
Wire loops used in a treatment known as Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) to remove abnormal cells from women’s cervixes, therefore reducing the incidence of cervical cancer.
A new autoclave to sterilize instruments.
Steve McCrossan, CEO of Nourish NC, said his organization will use its grant funds for two programs that have shown great promise during recent pilot periods:
A partnership with Nunnelee Specialty Pediatric Clinics, which serve chronically ill children, that will provide – in the doctors’ offices – boxes containing 25 meals’ worth of food and a voucher for fresh produce and meats, to patients identified as suffering from food insecurity.
Toddler Tummy, a program that will send the same box and voucher with personnel from Smart Start and Coastal Horizons who make home visits to clients with young children.
“Food insecurity has a very debilitating effect on a child’s mind and body,” McCrossan said. “Food is medicine.”
Three New Hanover County organizations received small grants.
The DisAbility Resource Center will use its $2,000 grant to compile a health and wellness resource guide to help the population it serves.
Smart Start of New Hanover County plans to apply its $3,500 grant to its ABC (Attachment and Bio-Behavioral Catchup) Positive Parenting program, which helps very young children who have had adverse experiences form secure attachments to their caregivers.
With its $4,500 grant, Wilmington Lions Club will purchase a tonometer, a gauge used to measure the fluid pressure inside the eye – an indicator of glaucoma. The new tonometer will be used by eye care professionals working through community outreach programs.
BY JENNY CALLISON, POSTED JUN 14, 2019
On any given day, MedNorth and CommWell health centers could be saving area hospitals a significant amount of money. That’s because the two centers provide care to a population in Southeastern North Carolina that might otherwise turn to hospital emergency departments for primary care.
“The ER is such an inappropriate starting point” for health care, said MedNorth CEO Althea Johnson, adding that, by the time an uninsured individual decides to visit the emergency department, “some problems can become giant.”
The bill could be giant as well, especially if the uninsured person has postponed getting treatment until the condition becomes a crisis.
A 2013 National Institutes of Health study calculated the median cost of one visit to the ER at $1,233 – and costs have risen since then. Uninsured and underinsured people, who are the most likely to use the emergency department as their primary source of health care, often can’t pay for the cost of their visit. In many of those cases, the hospital must absorb the cost.
Enter the community health center.
In the jigsaw puzzle that is health care in the United States, community health centers provide primary care in underserved urban and rural communities. These pieces are essential to holding the puzzle together and in reducing health care costs.
Christopher Ray Vann, CommWell’s chief development officer, cites a study that found when a federally qualified health center, or FQHC, lands in a county, there is a 30% reduction in emergency room use.
MedNorth, located in Wilmington’s Northside community, served about 7,000 of New Hanover County’s low-income residents in 2018, 53% of whom were uninsured and another 36% were on Medicaid or Medicare.
CommWell Health, with 16 centers in Southeastern North Carolina, reaches into Brunswick County’s more rural areas with locations in Bolivia, Shallotte and Ocean Isle Beach that, combined, served 3,300 patients in 2018.
It also runs an FQHC in Pender County’s Willard community.
In Southport, Goshen Medical Center Inc. also operates as a federally qualified community and migrant health center organization. It offers pediatric as well as family medicine services.
Like puzzle pieces, each of these centers is distinctive, reflecting the community it serves.
Each FQHC gets a set amount of federal funding each year, but the clinics can also apply for other federal grants for specific projects.
Vann said that the federal monies make up about half of CommWell’s overall budget.
FQHCs charge their patients on a sliding scale based on their incomes. Those at the lowest income level are charged $30 per visit.
Both MedNorth’s Johnson and CommWell Health CEO Pam Tripp emphasize that the majority of their patients do have jobs, but these jobs often don’t pay much and do not provide health benefits.
“These are the people who wait on us in restaurants, wash our cars and till our fields,” Tripp said. “People are happy we’re here, and they are happy to pay.”
Both centers aim to be one-stop shops for health care, with physical, behavioral and dental care for children and adults. Because these centers practice integrative care, a person who comes through the door with one health issue can be assessed for – and treated for – other, often related, problems.
Both local FQHCs are Joint Commission accredited, meaning they have been assessed and certified by The Joint Commission, an independent, not-forprofit organization. Such certification recognizes an organization’s commitment to meeting specified performance standards.
“We hire professionals, and all of them are board certified with years of experience with the population we serve,” Johnson said. “We are offering a quality product, and would love for people to know that coming here is not a step down.”
FQHCs are required to serve patients in the language of the patient’s choice. MedNorth has a full-time Spanish interpreter and several Spanish-speaking staff members. But speakers of other languages visit the clinic as well.
“Nineteen percent of our patients want to be addressed in a language other than English,” Johnson said. “I’m always amazed at the languages we hear in here: Congolese, Karen, Swahili. We’ve even had calls for American Sign Language, Farsi, Cantonese, Mandarin. We do have people on staff who can speak some of these languages.”
MedNorth also uses a remote translation service when needed.
Spanish is the primary language of CommWell’s Brunswick patients who don’t speak English, according to Vann.
“Over half of our (staff) colleagues are bilingual, and we also contract with a company that provides realtime video interpretation services for hundreds of languages and American Sign Language,” he said.
In carrying out their demanding mission, FQHCs develop partnerships or informal relationships with other health care providers.
One of MedNorth collaborations is with Cape Fear Clinic, a charity care health care center in New Hanover County that also provides a range of services to the uninsured and underinsured but does not receive a federal subsidy.
CommWell Health has a similar collaborative relationship with New Hope Clinic, also a charity care center, in Brunswick County. Because these charity care clinics charge less for a patient visit, they serve the very poorest in their communities.
To ensure that it is reaching patients who may not wish to visit the clinic itself, MedNorth partners with First Fruit Ministries, a Wilmington organization that provides food, shelter and related services to the homeless.
“It’s amazing how many vets are in the homeless population,” Johnson said, pointing out that veterans suffering from PTSD may be uncomfortable in institutional settings or in situations where they are around groups of people.
“First Fruit Ministries goes out and brings people in (to its facility) and gives them a shower, clothing, a hot meal. We provide health care. They don’t necessarily want to come to MedNorth. We meet the community where services are needed,” Johnson said.
In the next six months, she added, MedNorth plans to launch van service, providing transport to the clinic from First Fruit and various public housing developments.
In Brunswick County, CommWell has forged ties with several faith communities, schools and other organizations to build a supportive health care safety net. Its first mobile clinic came about thanks to New Beginnings Community Church. CommWell also has the use of Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center’s mammography equipment.
Each FQHC is required to have an advisory board. These boards must be consumer-led, meaning at least 51% of the members should be those who use the health center as their main source of care. The intention is to ensure the center is responsive to the needs of the communities it serves.
CommWell’s advisory board has been active in fundraising for CommWell Health in Brunswick County. One immediate goal is to purchase and set up a mobile dental unit. Another is to have a medical/ behavioral health mobile unit that can go to area schools.
“We have schools that are 100% free lunch,” Tripp said of the organization’s service area. She added that often students at these schools lack access to medical and dental treatment and, increasingly, behavioral health care.
“We get calls a lot from schools, saying ‘Can you help us with behavioral health?’ We are looking forward to doing that through a mobile unit,” Tripp said.
Despite the annual federal subsidy and potential availability of other grants, FQHCs must find other sources of funding to carry out their mission.
Vann says about half of CommWell’s budget for its entire 16-clinic operation is covered by an $11 million subsidy and another $1 million in other grant monies.
“We have to develop (other) revenues ourselves,” he said. “We’ve been building a foundation with our Wonderful 100 Campaign. In six months our board and colleagues have raised $170,000.”
CommWell and MedNorth, like other FQHCs in the state, are following the state legislature’s debate on whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program. Qualifying more of the state’s poor for Medicaid coverage would mean that FQHCs and other charity care clinics could get reimbursed at Medicaid rates for patients they are now treating for much less.
“That would be a beautiful thing,” said Johnson of the Medicaid expansion proposal. “We have to generate additional revenue. Staff want to be paid the market rate and will leave if they can find a better-paying job. We are always in recruitment mode, which has an impact on patient care.”
Expansion of the state’s Medicaid program would benefit whole communities, Vann said.
“We would see a significant increase to our revenues with Medicaid expansion,” Vann said. “We could expand more jobs, for the sake of our communities. Our leadership estimates a $3 million addition to our revenue. That $3 million would be considered an investment to the community because it translates to $5 million in terms of economic benefit. Right now, there is a restaurant being built down the street from our north Sampson County center; it’s opening because we are right here, and we pull in a lot of people.”