Charlie Mann always knew he wanted to help look out for others. It’s what made Mann switch majors from chemical engineering to medicine in college.
Nine years ago, the head and neck specialist gathered three like-minded area professionals with the help of Cary First United Methodist Church and started Alliance Medical Ministries, a small faith-based nonprofit program to give reduced-cost medical care to the working uninsured of Wake County.
Last month, Mann, 70, was honored at an Alliance event. The program now sits on its own four-acre campus off New Bern Avenue and provides care to more than 8,000 adults each year.
Staff writer Chelsea Kellner chatted with Mann last week about how to create change in your community, the role of faith and possible solutions to the health care debate in the United States.
Responses have been edited for length.
Q: What sparked the idea for Alliance?
I knew that medicine in general needs to be reaching out. I had been volunteering and I had been on mission trips, but then I was at a national meeting where they described a model program in Memphis that had a clinic next to a church. About the same time they said “you can do this too,” I was saying the same thing.
I came back with the idea and approached some people who were at a crossroads in life, and I said this is what we ought to try. You make decisions at life’s crossroads. We had fertile ground here.
Q: Why is it important to have a place like Alliance in Raleigh?
Because there is a gap. And in spite of what we’re promised by the government, it’s important for a place to be available at which you can get all care taken care of when you admit you don’t have the resources, even in cases involving surgery and radiation. It offers a bright spot in Raleigh when you hear so many other words out there to the contrary about how difficult it is and how expensive it is.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in getting Alliance started?
It’s like a lot of things: the decision to do it was the hardest challenge. Once you decide you’re going to do it and you share that, it was almost too easy. It was a journey in which multiple people stepped forward with multiple talents. After the initial decision was made and you share it, it ties into a certain group of people that are willing to see this thing through and have enough faith that it could happen. That’s why we call it faith-based – I stand back and marvel at the miracle that happened here.
Q: Health care has been in the news a lot. From where you stand, do you see there being any good answers to the issue of accessible health care in this country?
Absolutely yes. The two aspects we’ve pointed out here are two of the most important: one is that the community reaches out and churches reach out and a caring community reaches out. At the same time, the patient has to accept their own accountability and recognize they have a role in this too, in taking care of themselves. This is an answer. I like to look at positives instead of negatives, and these are ways you can reach out and have answers for the uninsured.
The answer is not necessarily wrapped up in government. It’s wrapped up in people reaching out and people being more responsible. There are more answers in that than in some government program. The basis of our country is individual responsibility and freedom. The government has an important role, but everybody has to sit at the table and discuss those issues. That’s where the answers will come from – it doesn’t come from just one area, it comes from everyone discussing these things and recognizing the patient’s role as well as the charitable role to solve these problems, not simply a government role.
Q: How did your church experience encourage you to get involved with medicine?
It was about reaching out to people. You’re always looking to help people and looking for the least of these. When you’re fortunate, you look for ways you can help others.
It’s sort of amazing when you look at it. You’re asking me to explain it, and I can’t. This is bigger than I am. This has far outreached any of my initial plans. I thought we would have some small operation next to the Methodist church. Things never go in the direction you think.