By Laquanna Tyler
Routine healthcare visits are vital for people who suffer from chronic illnesses. What happens to those who cannot access or afford the services necessary to treat and monitor their condition? For some, the answer is the Open Door Clinic of Urban Ministries of Wake County.
Urban Ministries’ Open Door Clinic focuses on making regular healthcare visits accessible and affordable to people in poverty who suffer from chronic illnesses. Urban Ministries opened the clinic just four years after the organization was founded when it became apparent that the healthcare needs of the underprivileged were not being met.
“We were founded by our community and churches and over the years have increased our partnership with different organizations,” says Executive Director Dr. Peter Morris, former medical director at Wake County Human Services who started with Urban Ministries as a volunteer in its early days.
Maintaining affordable quality care
Open Door clinic is a primary care clinic that manages chronic diseases such as gastroenteritis, asthma, diabetes and hypertension. “About half of our patients have high blood pressure as a result of hypertension, and a third has diabetes,” notes Clinic Director Pablo Escobar.
Dr. Morris says the goal of the clinic is to “help people find the conditions in which they can be healthy.” He says that many people with chronic illnesses only see their doctor about four times a year. “We want to help them care for themselves the other 361 days of the year,” he adds.
Patients must meet low income qualifications, not have health insurance of any kind and show proof of residency in Wake County. Escobar explains, “We’re a true community-based organization. We are totally local and have no programs outside of Wake County.”
Open Door Clinic takes its services a step further by partnering with Filling In The Gaps (FIGS), a nonprofit organization that raises about $100,000 each year for Urban Ministries. The funds help pay for the prescriptions of some of the clinic’s patients.
Volunteer eye doctors come to the clinic once or twice a month to screen patients with diabetes for diabetic retinopathy, a common condition that could cause blindness. Since patients with diabetes often have problems with their feet, a volunteer podiatrist is also available. A volunteer cardiologist serves patients who have hypertension.
The only cost to patients is a $20 administrative fee for appointments with physicians, which went into effect August of this year. All labs, eye exams and medications prescribed by the clinic are free of charge.
Setting goals, measuring outcomes, improving and increasing service
Dr. Morris explains that he and the rest of the Urban Ministries board revised their strategic plan and added three-year goals for all of its services, including the Helen Wright Center for Women and the Food Pantry. The clinic’s goals are to improve patient outcomes and increase its patient flow. “We want them to not only get better, but feel better as well,” Morris says.
This year, the clinic has implemented electronic medical records. This system helps to improve the quality of the clinic’s services by leading to more personalized care for patients. Due to the nature of the illnesses the clinic treats, staff physicians do a great deal of lab testing to monitor patients’ health on a more regular basis. Using electronic records has helped staff physicians track patients’ results over time and monitor patients’ compliance with medical advice.
Efficiency is linked to another of Urban Ministries’ goals: to increase the number of patients that the clinic treats. Open Door Clinic treats 1,500 patients annually and hopes to increase that number to 1,800.
Escobar says electronic records will also help the clinic show better patient outcomes, which will hopefully draw more financial support. “We totally rely on our community, and more than half of the money we get comes from individual donors,” he says. The open door clinic is also supported by area hospitals, churches and businesses.
“We want to really focus on what we do so that we are no longer needed in that way,” Dr. Morris says. “But there will always be a need for neighbors to help neighbors and communities to help communities.”
Urban Ministries’ goal for its fall campaign this year is to raise $300,000, which will help it continue its services. As part of the campaign, Urban Ministries will hold its annual Stone Soup Supper on Nov. 20 at Wake Memorial Church on Oberlin Road. For more information on this event and others, click here.