On any given day in Charlotte, there are over 3,100 individuals who are experiencing homelessness. This number is up 55% from before the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to dealing with housing insecurity and many other challenges, these individuals are often also lacking easy and affordable access to medical care.
To attempt to address this need, the United Way of Central Carolinas (UWCC) has chosen Care Ring to serve clients referred through 211 who are facing a housing crisis and in need of health care. This project is funded through a portion of the federal Emergency Solutions Grants given to the City of Charlotte, which UWCC is overseeing as the coordinating agency for homeless services in our area.
“We are so grateful to Care Ring for stepping into an innovative, highly collaborative effort to provide housing as well as critical services, such as medical care, to those experiencing homelessness,” said Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, United Way of Central Carolinas chief impact officer. “Through the power of partnership, this work has secured homes and apartments for over 100 households.”
This funding has allowed Care Ring to hire an additional part-time Nurse Practitioner in our Low-Cost Clinic, Steffanie Sullivan, who will see up to 60 patients for four visits each at no charge to the patient. This will also cover the enrollment fee for patients who qualify for our Physicians Reach Out program, ensuring the patients most in need will continue to get free medical care after the funding ends. Lastly, the funds help to cover transportation costs for patients who need to be seen in-office, which is often a significant barrier to accessing care.
Since the initiative launched in November, Care Ring has received 53 referrals via UWCC’s 211 service from other partner agencies such as Salvation Army, Community Link, Supportive Housing Communities, Catholic Charities, and Block Love Charlotte. Most individuals being referred are being sheltered somewhere such as a hotel or temporary residential facility or are coming out of homelessness. Their caseworker has identified a medical need and recommends them for service. In many cases, the client has not had health care in a long time and/or needs support navigating the healthcare system.
Thus far, 8 individuals have received services from Care Ring.
In talking with Steffanie Sullivan about the challenge of getting patients in to see her, she said that there are numerous obstacles: telephone numbers being inconsistent or disconnected; the patient misses the call and doesn’t call back
because they are preoccupied with other challenges; the patient sometimes doesn’t understand or trust the referral process; or there are mental health issues which make organizing tasks and priorities difficult. Steffanie often makes calls after usual business hours and on weekends to try to make contact with potential patients and help them make an appointment with her, offering them a choice of in-person or telehealth visits.
One of the patients that has been seen is Brenda W. Brenda is 59 years old, currently living in a hotel, and was referred by Block Love Charlotte. Steffanie saw her in the Clinic and was able to give her a complete physical exam with bloodwork. Brenda has been suffering terribly with chronic shoulder and joint pain and a hernia. She is being enrolled in our Physicians Reach Out program so that she can be treated
by specialists for those conditions, which may require surgical intervention. These conditions have also left Brenda unable to work, and in need of Social Security’s disability benefits, so Steffanie sent medical records over to Brenda’s disability caseworker – an important step in getting approved.
Brenda had also run out of some important medications for her mental health, and Steffanie connected her with our partner NC MedAssist so she’s back on her regimen. Lastly, Brenda has never had a mammogram or colonoscopy, two important cancer screening tools for a person her age, so she’s being scheduled for those tests in the near future.
When speaking with Brenda by phone, she said “I am just so glad I am in this program. It has helped me so much already. I recommend it to anybody.” She concluded by saying she looks forward to feeling better, and has hope now that she can.