When teachers sent her 6-year-old son home from school Wednesday because they thought he might have pink eye, Kendra Powell didn’t take him to the emergency room. They went to Advance Community Health in Southeast Raleigh.
“I never have a long wait time,” said Powell, 25. “They always give me good, valuable advice.”
Advance Community Health, which changed its name from Wake Health Services last year, is now seeing patients in a new $13 million facility on Rock Quarry Road. The nonprofit consolidated two Southeast Raleigh locations so adults and children receive medical care in the same place, along with dental care and other services.
Most of the patients at Advance are uninsured or receive Medicaid, which serves low-income people, or Medicare, which serves the elderly and those with disabilities.
“We wanted a one-stop location,” said Adam Hartzell, development and strategy officer for Advance Community Health.
The organization, founded in 1972, serves about 25,000 patients at five locations in Wake and Franklin counties. About 15,000 of those patients receive services in Southeast Raleigh, Hartzell said. With a larger facility and more medical providers, Advance is poised to increase its capacity to 35,000 patients.
Advance receives about $3 million a year from the federal government, in addition to payments for services from Medicaid and Medicare.
A national consortium paid for the new building, but Advance launched a $2 million capital campaign last year to repay a loan and create new programming – maybe community education classes or a partnership with the YMCA of the Triangle, which plans to build a facility nearby.
The group has raised about $1.2 million so far and is reaching out to the City of Raleigh and local businesses for the final $800,000. Advance is asking Raleigh for $450,000 through the city’s program that helps fund nonprofits. Wake County has already given the group $450,000.
Penny Washington, chief executive of Advance, said it’s important for the community to buy into the health-center model. Some say Southeast Raleigh has long been in need of more health services.
According to a study by Advance, about 96,000 people in six ZIP codes in the southeastern part of the city don’t have a primary care doctor. Thirty-seven percent of Southeast Raleigh residents live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, compared with 25 percent of Wake County residents.
For a family of four, 200 percent of the federal poverty level is annual income of $48,500. For an individual, it’s $23,540.
“In order for Raleigh to thrive, all segments of the population have to thrive,” said Maria Spaulding, a volunteer leading the capital campaign for Advance.
Advance Community Health is one of about three dozen community health centers in North Carolina. One goal of these centers is to give uninsured patients a “medical home” to keep them out of emergency rooms.
At Advance, a team of providers can help patients with a variety of issues. A team might consist of a doctor, dentist, social worker, dietitian and drug-assistance program coordinator.
“It allows us to provide more comprehensive care,” said Dr. Michelle Bucknor, chief medical officer for Advance.
Patients form relationships with doctors and other staff members, Bucknor said, paving the way for conversations about how choices patients make affect their lives. For example, a dietitian can help a patient with diabetes understand the importance of a healthy diet.
“It’s really engaging the patients in a way that we haven’t,” Bucknor said.
Advance partners with WakeMed Health & Hospitals for some services, but it doesn’t receive funding from the hospital. The nonprofit now houses the Rex Senior Health Center, which was displaced by new development.
Washington said she hopes Advance can form closer ties with WakeMed and UNC Rex Healthcare. She points to the relationship between Duke University Hospital and the Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham.
The Lincoln Community Health Center, also a nonprofit that serves uninsured patients and those on Medicaid and Medicare, receives “a substantial amount” of money from Duke, said Philip Harewood, chief executive at Lincoln.
“Everybody’s better off if they are able to have a medical home,” Harewood said, adding that Duke benefits because some patients who might go to the university’s emergency room come to Lincoln instead.
In fiscal year 2014, WakeMed’s cost to care for uninsured patients was more than $79 million, according to Kristin Kelly, a spokeswoman for the hospital.
With its new 35,000-square-foot facility, Advance Community Health is looking to new ways to help patients. A pharmacy will open inside the building this year, and some patients will receive discounts on prescription medications.
Advance has hired a social worker who specializes in working with children.
“We needed someone who could talk to teens on their level,” Washington said.
“Without judgment,” Spaulding added.
The nonprofit renovated its existing building next to the new facility, and that space will house administrative offices as well as a training center and conference room that will be available to patients and outside groups.
But new programs require new money. Washington said it’s key that local businesses help, and Advance is counting on the grant from Raleigh.
“Now is the time for the community to step up,” Washington said.