Accessing healthcare is an uphill battle for many people in Mecklenburg County. Around 12% of people under 65 were uninsured in Mecklenburg County in 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. From transportation, insurance and time constraints, there any many barriers to getting to a doctor.
Why it matters: Around 25% of adults in Mecklenburg don’t have a primary health care provider, according to the 2022 Mecklenburg County Community Health Report. The same report stated 16% of adults reported “avoiding Medicare due to cost.”
Several local health organizations in Charlotte have a solution: bring resources that impact health to the community and expand services to make them more accessible.
Collaborations for healthcare
In an attempt to make preventive care easier to obtain, Care Ring partnered with other organizations, including the University of North Carolina School of Nursing, to launch a community-based healthcare initiative called “The Bridge.”
The initiative features a mobile care unit in the Grier Heights neighborhood. Located outside of a 7-Eleven, the unit offers health screenings for blood pressure and diabetes, counseling support and links to community resources every Tuesday.
“We’re at the gas station,” Nicole Latty, an employee at the mobile unit, said. “We have a whole lot of people coming in and out; they come by. They didn’t know that we were here. Why not get the free services?”
The mobile unit sees patients from noon to 4 p.m. Patients then fill out a survey collecting data on their social determents of health, such as whether they have transportation and stable housing.
The goal is to fulfill community needs by providing resources that make preventive care more attainable.
“The community talks, so when we hear from them, we’re able to come to them,” Latty said. “When you’re out in the community, you can ask people, ‘Hey what it is that you need?’ ”
Since its opening in December 2022, the mobile unit has provided services to more than 100 patients. Of those patients, 43% were Black women, and 33% were Black men, according to a fact sheet from Care Ring.
Of the patients treated at the mobile healthcare unit, 39% reported not having a regular doctor and 22% needed transportation to medical appointments.
The decision to collaborate with other local organizations was to make accessing these health screenings easier.
“It’s so important to have collaborations or partnerships just because sometimes the community cannot get to clinics, gets to resources or services that are further out from where they live,” Latty said. “I think it’s important to collaborate because you can bring it to them.”
Care Ring also provides bus passes to patients getting essential screenings to other appointments around Charlotte.
Georgette Caldwell, a nurse for Care Ring’s mobile unit, says there is a great need in low-income communities such as Grier Heights for programs like the mobile unit.
“There’s definitely a population that can’t afford health care,” Caldwell. “They can’t get these things, and in return, their health declines. I have had people come in who did not even know that their blood pressure was high,” Caldwell said.
Many people are preoccupied with things other than health, according to Caldwell.
“There are people who may not see healthcare as a priority because they’re concerned about how they’re going to get food on the table if their rent is going to be paid,” Caldwell. “Healthcare is on the bottom of the list.”
Caldwell says some patients don’t have primary physicians or insurance, but the mobile unit is able to help refer them.
Stephanie Lopez, a patient of the mobile unit, had a lapse in healthcare coverage and had to go without her medications for years. The mobile unit is helping to her enroll in affordable marketplace insurance and get her health back on track.
“I’m grateful for them,” Lopez said. “It’s worth it. I think they should have these [mobile healthcare units] in a lot of different areas.”
Lopez says she feels comfortable visiting the mobile clinic and has come four weeks in a row to get her blood pressure checked in attempt to lower it, which she says she has done. Lopez told QCity Metro that when she first came, her blood pressure was at 129, and now it’s 108.
“Just for people that don’t have the opportunity to go to the doctors or are scared because they make be scared of the outcomes,” Lopez said. “They actually make you feel comfortable.”
Mobile Food Pantries
Nearly 15% of households are considered food insecure, according to Mecklenburg County.
Lacking essential balanced meals can have devastating impacts on people’s health.
Tashina Figueroa, Loaves and Fishes Friendship Trays Community Outreach Director, says there is a great need for programs fighting against food insecurity.
“There are several people who are food insecure,” Figueroa said. “Sometimes they need meals; sometimes they need groceries or with their families.
She also said many people are physically unable to get to food pantries around Charlotte due to mobility challenges.
“Sometimes it’s somebody who’s recovering from surgery,” Figueroa said. “Sometimes it’s an elderly person that wants to stay living in their own home, but they can no longer cook for themselves.”
She said transportation and “shame” can also be barriers to accessing the food.
“If they have a transportation issue, we can bring it to their doorstep. If they don’t want to come to us we go to their neighborhood,” Figueroa said. “It helps them keep some of their dignity. Not everyone is thrilled about coming to a pantry.”
To combat this, Loaves and Fishes, a food pantry, merged with Friendship Trays, meals on Wheels service, in 2021 to become Loaves and Fishes Friendship Trays to help food insecure people.
Over 45% of the clients that Loaves and Fishes Friendship Trays served last year were Black, according to Figueroa.
Every weekday, around 500 balanced, nutritional meals are delivered to homebound individuals, according to Tina Postel, CEO of Loaves and Fishes Friendship Trays.
“Our goal to make sure that we have food from all five food groups,” Postel said. “We get enough pastries and junk food donated, we could feed everybody, but that’s not our goal.”
They offer nine different dietary needs, including a plate for diabetics and a meal suited for those dealing with heart disease. Meals are prepared at an offsite kitchen and then delivered by volunteers.
The nonprofit also delivers groceries to those in need six days a week through mobile food pantries. Last month, they provided groceries to nearly 11,000 Charlotte residents. Fresh cabbage, sweet potatoes and grapes are some of the fresh foods given to people through the organization.
While some organizations are coming to the community, others, such as Rao Community Health, located in Uptown, are expanding their hours to be more accessible.
According to Bernard Davis, CEO of Rao Community Health, many patients of color feel uncomfortable in medical settings, making it more difficult to see a healthcare provider.
“When it comes to health care, it’s already a challenge for black and brown people because there’s this mistrust for the medical system,” Davis said. “ Because they don’t feel comfortable, they’re not going to go back.”
To help ease the discomfort of Black patients, Rao Community Health offers a Black care provider.
“I wanted the patients to be able to see someone who looked like them, someone who could relate to some of the challenges that they face,” Davis said.
Rao Community Health offers testing for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and hepatitis C Monday through Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offers extended hours — until 7 p..m. — every second and fourth Thursday of the month.
Though not free, the clinic offers a sliding scale for those who may be uninsured or underinsured.
“If they have insurance, that’s great,” Davis said. “If they don’t have insurance, we will look at what it is that you can pay and how we help to serve you with what you can pay and what you can cover.”
The organization also coordinates rides for patients who need them.
“Patients are being displaced and being further out. [There] may not be a bus route or bus line for them to access.” Davis said. “If I don’t have the ability for transportation, then I can’t access the services that are available that I need.”