Like most movements of consequence, Care Ring began with a single person who saw a need and said, “Why isn’t somebody doing something about this?” And as innovators typically do, she decided she should be that somebody.
The year was 1955 and Maribelle Connerat was a nurse who was in many ways ahead of her time. As she assisted more and more patients with heart disease, she knew that simply treating the illness was only part of her obligation as a health professional; to benefit the entire community beyond treating individual patients, she’d have to find ways to prevent illness in the first place.
Maribelle and several of her fellow nurses began going door-to-door in poorer areas of Charlotte to check on families – particularly mothers – who couldn’t afford to visit a doctor. These nurses not only provided medical care, but they also passed on basic health knowledge to parents.
Maribelle’s Vision Realized
Today, Care Ring’s expansive view of health care includes personal, family and community health and wellness. Serving more than 6,000 people in Mecklenburg County every year, Care Ring provides preventive health services for the uninsured, underinsured or those otherwise without access to affordable, high-quality health care.
“We offer more services than when we started, but our mission has never changed,” said Don Jonas, Care Ring’s executive director. “We work to empower individuals with limited resources to establish and maintain good health. The need identified by Maribelle in 1955 still remains.”
In fact, the need is greater than ever before. With the dawn of the Affordable Care Act, some states – North Carolina among them – decided not to expand the Medicaid program, which has meant thousands of people in our state are still without health insurance.
“It’s hard to know how many people there are in North Carolina who don’t have any health insurance at all,” Jonas said. “We estimate there could be upwards of 100,000 people without insurance in Mecklenburg County alone.”
Many of those people – thousands of them – end up getting sick and have no choice but to go to the nearest emergency room. This drives up health care costs for everyone. That dynamic means Care Ring’s efforts to address health care issues for individuals can also help solve problems on a statewide level.
Filling the Gaps
Care Ring’s programs include a low-cost clinic in Charlotte that offers basic health care services and chronic disease management for people in need; the Nurse-Family Partnership that pairs families and nurses for health services and wellness instruction; and the Physicians Reach Out initiative that has recruited 1,600 volunteer physicians, dentists and other health care professionals to provide health care at nominal fees to North Carolinians who don’t qualify for Medicaid and don’t have access to private insurance.
“We’re here to help fill the gaps in our health care system,” Jonas said. “When our nurses visit a home, they aren’t just assessing the family’s health – they are also assessing the family’s needs. And the nurses often find that parents need some coaching.”
That coaching can include everything from adhering to medication schedules to even offering advice on how to stimulate a child’s intellectual growth by reading books together.
“There are a lot of young women out there getting pregnant and a lot of them don’t really know exactly what they should do,” said Kayla, a first-time mother who has benefited from the Nurse-Family Partnership. “I feel very, very fortunate to have a nurse come to my house and teach me how to raise my little boy in the right way.”
Community impact doesn’t get much more immediate and practical than that.
Month of Thanks and Beyond
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is honoring Care Ring during this Month of Thanks with a $5,000 donation to help the agency continue its community health projects.
“The donation will not only allow us to continue our services, but it’s also an important validation of our mission,” said Jonas. “It confirms that there are plenty of other people in our state who share our unwillingness to accept the idea that there will always be people around the edges of our society who haven’t been included – the gift from Blue Cross will help us draw those people in.”
Jonas added that while Care Ring’s area of service is Mecklenburg County, the agency aims to improve the quality of life for everyone who lives in our state.
“When we are able to help someone in Charlotte, that makes life better for people living in Wilmington and Asheville and Raleigh,” Jonas added. “For our state to truly thrive, all North Carolinians must live well.”
We want to thank Care Ring for doing something about that.