Care Ring a health-care hub for uninsured

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A 55-year-old nonprofit that works to empower individuals with limited resources to establish and maintain good health has a new name, focus and fundraising strategy.

Formed in 1955, Community Health Services has renamed itself Care Ring, indicating the agency serves as a hub for health-care services in Mecklenburg County, says Rachel Smith, the group’s director of development and interim executive director.

The name change is part of a strategic planning process that began in the fall of 2008 and has been funded with an $82,000 capacity-building grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem.

As part of that effort, the agency has shifted its focus from preventive health care for children and adults with limited means to improving their access to affordable health care.

“We have evolved with changing community needs,” Smith says. With an annual budget of about $2 million, Care Ring offers three main programs that serve about 10,000 clients a year.

Those programs, down from seven the agency had been providing, include a low-cost clinic, a network of volunteer physicians, and an initiative that teams nurses with first-time mothers.

The clinic, which is located on East 5th St. and had been providing preventive care such as physical exams and immunizations, opened as a primary-care provider in June 2009 and serves about 1,500 clients a year.

Physicians Reach Out, a network of over 1,600 volunteer doctors, provides over $10 million in free care to about 4,500 uninsured individuals a year.

And the Nurse-Family Partnership, part of statewide network of local efforts that is part of a national initiative, provides primary prevention services to about 100 clients a year and has served 130 women since it was launched in the fall of 2008.

Care Ring also is working with the Council for Children’s Rights on planning for a possible expansion of the Nurse-Family Partnership in Mecklenburg County.

The agency, which over the years had expanded by taking on programs from other agencies, now has moved two of its programs to other groups, absorbed a third program in its physicians network, and eliminated a fourth after a grant was reduced.

In addition to connecting patients with health-care resources, Care Ring works to give them a stronger voice in expanding their access to health care, and it works to form collaborations to address local health-care needs.

And with the economic downturn eroding the assets of foundations, which account for about 30 percent of its annual budget, Care Ring aims to boost giving by individuals, who account for about 20 percent of the budget.

Smith, who says the number of donors to the agency has grown 180 percent in the past two years, will be working with the agency’s board to get its 22 members more involved in engaging donors and prospective donors with the entire organization.

Care Ring also will be tracking the impact of health-care reform on its clients.

“We continue to look at the changing needs in our community,” she says.

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