Providing Health Care for the Working Poor
One of the most controversial political issues in modern America is health care. Alliance Medical Ministry, a faith-led nonprofit in Wake County, North Carolina, is providing solutions to the health care crisis without the intervention of the federal government.
The idea behind Alliance is simple: Bring together a community of patients, providers, caregivers, volunteers, and supporters to provide health care and health training for the working poor. It’s built on the premise that low-income adults shouldn’t have to choose between taking care of their families and taking care of their own health.
The need in North Carolina for Alliance is significant. According to the 2010 census, 123,000 Wake County residents lack health insurance, and 82 percent of those live in a household with at least one working individual.
Alliance provides a medical home for these deserving people. Conveniently located just inside the Raleigh beltline, the clinic is staffed with physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and medical assistants. It provides acute and chronic care, pharmacy services, health education, disease management, and pastoral counseling.
Megg Rader, Alliance’s Executive Director, says that making people healthy — physically, mentally, and spiritually — has a beneficial impact on all of society. She hopes to expand Alliance and see similar medical homes established in other communities.
“Serving those in need and caring for our neighbors — that’s what Alliance is about,” she said.
Sparking an idea
In January 2013, Alliance marked a significant milestone — its 10-year anniversary. The clinic opened its doors in January 2003 near WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, but its origins date back earlier than that.
The idea for Alliance was sparked in 1999 when Dr. Charles Mann — a throat, ear, and nose specialist in Cary — attended a physician continuing education conference in San Francisco.
“One of the speakers talked about why we need to begin creating church-based clinics,” Dr. Mann said. “That inspired me to come back to North Carolina and see what we could do here.” (Read more about Dr. Mann’s story here.)
Along with three other founding board members, Dr. Mann launched Alliance as an offshoot of Cary First United Methodist Church. Since then, it has served over 20,000 patients who otherwise would have lacked access to affordable care.
How it works
To qualify for medical care, patients must meet the following requirements:
- Be employed or live with an employed family member
- Be a Wake County resident
- Have no health insurance (including Medicaid or Medicare)
- Be 18 years or older
Patients pay $15 per visit for a primary care physician and $25 for an acute care physician.
Ninty-eight percent of Alliance patients have an income below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Most work in construction, retail, or service industries.
All told, Alliance conducts 1,100 patient visits per month and is the medical home for more than 8,000 patients annually.
Health care at Alliance is more multi-faceted than traditional medicine, said Dr. Tara Lewis, Alliance’s Medical Director. If patients need emotional or spiritual support, they get it.
“This ministry takes medicine back to what medicine should be — about relationships,” Dr. Lewis said.
Beyond caring for low-income working families, Alliance adds another benefit by lessening the burden on emergency rooms. Many of the clinic’s patients would otherwise go to an ER, costing on average $1,596 per visit, a bill often picked up by the taxpayers.
“Alliance is about giving people a message that they might never have gotten from a doctor before: you’re important,” Dr. Lewis said. “It’s not just about popping pills and prescribing medicines and me hammering you about what is not right. Let’s start with the basics: you have value, and you have purpose.”