Note: This blog post is a companion piece to Care Ring’s “Seeking the Heart”podcast series in which we talk with leaders from across the region about their ideas and insights on how we can create a better health care system for ALL. To listen to “Seeking the Heart,” simply click here, or search for “Seeking the Heart” on your favorite podcast platform.
Care Ring’s “Seeking the Heart” podcast started late in 2019 with a simple question: Do we have the heart to care for all of our neighbors?
As life has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, the answer to whether our local health care community has the heart to care for all of our neighbors is an emphatic YES!
Local doctors, nurses, front line staff and other clinical providers demonstrate every minute of every day that our medical community has a huge heart.
But the last few weeks have also taught us that this impulse to give and support others is not confined to the health care industry. People from all walks of life are stepping forward and working in partnership with others to assist neighbors in need of a wide range of essential life needs. From addressing immediate food insecurity issues to helping neighbors sustain housing, we are seeing an explosion of innovation and creativity as together we look for our way out of this existential crisis.
Make no mistake the current situation is dire, and is by no means resolved. From having a single confirmed COVID-19 case in Mecklenburg County on March 11, less than three weeks later on March 31 more than 400 people in Mecklenburg are now confirmed positive with the virus. 8 North Carolinians have already died, and if predictions from epidemiologists are on track, that number will rise considerably and will rise very soon.
Nearly every zip code in the county has at least 1 confirmed case; many local zips have 10 or more confirmed cases. Young people are not spared: In Mecklenburg so far 41% of all cases are for individuals 20-39 years old. Black residents appear to be disproportionately impacted.
COVID-19 has ground the global economy to a near standstill as stay-at-home orders here and in communities across the country and around the world have dramatically slowed the gears of commerce. There is real fear for what the virus is doing to disrupt work. Lower income workers who rely heavily on local service industry employment for day-to-day needs are especially vulnerable.
Virtually everyone’s work, family, and social life is dramatically different than it was less than a month ago. For me, I have experienced the deep pain of not being able to visit my recovering, 85-year-old father as he healed in isolation at a nearby rehab clinic. My wife sent me a picture just yesterday morning (see above) as she began her day as PA at a local clinic, dressed out in full protective gear as she provided direct care to patients who relied on her for care. These two personal impacts – an isolated and unreachable father and a spouse taking extraordinary measures just to do her job were not even in the range of possibilities just a few weeks ago.
And yet, the very good news in this time of crisis is that our region has not sat motionless and paralyzed with fear. We have rolled up our sleeves. We have gotten to work. Just a very few examples:
- The United Way of Central Carolinas, Foundation For The Carolinas, Mecklenburg County, the City of Charlotte, major corporations with local ties like Lending Tree, Ally Financial, Duke Energy, Bank of America, Lowe’s Home Improvement and many others sprung to action, establishing www.helpcharmeck.org seemingly overnight as a resource and hub to provide funds for urgent local needs.
- Atrium Health, Novant Health, and Mecklenburg County quickly formed and advanced an array of joint efforts to address immediate health care challenges. Working with Goodwill Industries, they recognized the looming shortage of personal protective gear, setting up a process for local businesses and companies to provide masks and related essential gear for health care workers (learn more at www.gofundme.com/f/cltgiveppe)
- Individuals got in on the innovative, necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention act. Dr. Jean Chai (with Atrium) and his wife Dr. Janie Chai (with Novant) worked with Charlotte Latin School where their children attend school to quickly design and print CDC approved 3D face shields for local providers (www.gofundme/f/cls-3D-faceshields)
- Local nonprofit consulting firm Next Stage started hosting weekly online forums where leaders across the wide spectrum of human and social and environmental activity come together to share ideas and best practices on how this “New Normal” of life during a pandemic dramatically changes the nonprofit sector.
Just since the first of March, Care Ring’s basic business model and operations have fundamentally changed. We are still here and will always be here to serve the community and assist individuals with limited resources establish and maintain good health. But we are now using new methods and processes to reach and help people.
In our more than six decades in operation, Care Ring has rarely scheduled or conducted formal health care appointments by phone; nearly always we recommended in-person visits. A few days ago we successfully completed more than 15 formal health care phone consultations between our providers and patients, something unimaginable just a few weeks ago.
Our Nurse-Family Partnership home visiting program for new moms and their families has shifted quickly as well. Before the middle of March we had never signed up a new client without first meeting with them in person, sometimes meeting multiple times. Just within the last few weeks we now have multiple new clients who we signed up without ever having to meet in person.
We are all learning as we go in these uncertain times. Serving individuals with very limited resources usually requires face-to-face interactions. We can’t do that right now. So we adapt and do our work differently. Things many of us have been doing successfully for years have had to be rapidly tossed out, revised, and reintroduced.
We have all learned so much about our capacity as individuals and as members of teams to adjust at warp speed over the last few weeks.
I hope in the coming weeks and months you will join us on this journey at Care Ring as we all navigate these unfamiliar waters. “Seeking the Heart” will share stories and ideas on how we will get through these challenging times together.
*To directly support Care Ring's life-saving, life-changing mission, GIVE HERE.*
Author: Donald K. Jonas, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Care Ring