When health problems arise, a prescription medicine may be the go-to solution. But sometimes a prescription alone isn’t enough. That’s where Alliance Medical Ministry steps in for several thousand uninsured adults in Wake County.
“There are so many things that influence our patients’ health in their world,” says Megg Rader, Alliance’s executive director. “They could be working multiple jobs. They’re dealing with children, child care, extended family. Transportation is an issue. Housing can be an issue.”
Those concerns create barriers that keep people from accessing the health care they need. Alliance, Rader says, helps with navigation around and through the “environmental, social and economic factors that are really bearing down on our patient population.”
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First and foremost, Alliance provides primary care, plus a broad array of other medical services, for working adults who do not have Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance. Patients pay a copay on a sliding scale based on their income.
“We’re much like a private practice in that our primary care physicians are on staff,” says Kathryn R. Holding, development director. “Patients are assigned to their doctor, and they see that same doctor. We have many volunteer physicians who are specialists to supplement that care. So we can do eye care, gynecology, ENT, physical therapy. We do a Saturday orthopedics clinic.”
The two staff physicians and nurse practitioner also get help from volunteer nurses, pharmacy techs and medical assistants.
“It’s part of what helps us to be as efficient as we are,” Rader says. Through partnerships with other organizations, Alliance helps patients get needed lab work and dental care as well.
The help doesn’t end there, though.
“Our niche is the comprehensive work that we do,” Rader says. Through Alliance, patients can access pastoral care and counseling, nutrition and wellness programs, education in chronic disease management, fitness classes and fresh produce from the organization’s on-site garden.
Katherine Beckwith of Raleigh was referred to Alliance by WakeMed a few months ago to get care for her diabetes and breathing problems. Beckwith, 55, quickly embraced the group’s holistic approach to health.
“I did a diabetes class and now I’m doing the Cooking Matters class,” she says, referring to Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s six-week course in healthful meal preparation taught at Alliance’s facility near WakeMed. Beckwith enjoys learning new ways of cooking for herself and her 19-year-old daughter.
Along with other students in the cooking class, Beckwith takes home not only recipes but also fresh vegetables from Alliance’s garden. This time of year, the two-acre garden’s 20 raised beds are in transition to cool-season crops. By late October, the peppers, squash, okra and other summer crops had faded, while young kale, lettuce, radishes, spinach, carrots and other cool-season veggies were getting established.
“I grew up on greasy foods and things like that,” Beckwith says. “So vegetables were kind of like – we didn’t eat those as much. But now vegetables can taste good.”
The garden yields more than 2,000 pounds of produce a year, Holding says. It was built with help from Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, which in turn offers Alliance patients a six-week gardening class called Seed to Supper.
The partnership with the Raleigh-based food shuttle is one of many that enable Alliance to take its holistic approach to health care. Though Alliance has been at work since 2001, these collaborations with other groups have blossomed substantially in the past year or so.
Alliance serves as a satellite site for a yearlong YMCA diabetes prevention program that focuses on exercise and weight control. The Conservation Trust of North Carolina pays for an AmeriCorps member to manage the farm. Other partners include Step Up Ministry, Dress for Success, Catholic Parish Outreach, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and Child Care Services Association. Patients in need of better employment can get referred to job training programs. Last year, Alliance hosted a public People’s Law Clinic through the Wake County Bar Association.
On tap in the near future are efforts to build on what’s already working.
“We’re getting ready to put in a pollinator garden to attract honeybees,” Rader says. “We’d like to have an apiary and actually have honey that we can do here.” The group’s annual spring garden launch is set for Earth Day. In tandem with garden work days, Alliance plans to expand its environmental and garden education. “The results would be how it can support our patients,” she says.
Rader also hopes to increase Alliance’s role in advocating for services patients need, such as public transportation, job counseling and mental health care.
Volunteer help and donations are always welcome, Holding says.
The organization’s $1 million-plus annual funding is all privately raised from faith-based donors, foundations, corporate donors, United Way and individuals. In addition to money, donations of over-the-counter medical supplies are welcomed. Rader encourages groups to put together “flu kits” with ibuprofen, cough drops, and tissues that can be handed out to patients. Glucose meters and test strips are an urgent need for patients who need to test their blood sugar at home. Volunteers can help inside the clinic or out in the garden.
“We strive to be comprehensive in what we do so that it’s not just about writing a prescription,” Rader says. “It really is journeying with our patients and helping them connect in ways that will help them address all of these other barriers in their lives.”
Alliance Medical Ministry
101 Donald Ross Drive, Raleigh, NC 27610
Contact: Kathryn Holding, 919-250-9254
Donations needed: Medical supplies including blood pressure cuffs (large/thigh), nebulizers, ReliOn Prime Blood Glucose Test Strips, ReliOn Pen needles; bus passes; office supplies such as white printer paper, postage stamps, Staples gift cards; over-the-counter medications including Prilosec OTC, Tylenol Cold and Sinus, Mucinex, and multivitamins for adults.
Volunteers needed: Experienced clinical volunteers (RN, CNA, MD, PA, NP, CDE), medical interpreters, dentists, optometrists, registered dietitians, web support, data entry, event planners, marketing/communication expertise, help with mailings.
$10 would buy: Medical supplies for a patient visit.
$20 would buy: A flu shot.
$50 would buy: Community Garden and Wellness Program support.