Alliance Medical Ministry Pivots Quickly to Serve Wake County Patients During COVID-19
Approximately 117,000 Wake County residents are uninsured. Healthcare is challenging and expensive for many, but low-income households and individuals without health insurance are especially vulnerable during COVID-19.
Healthcare accessibility and affordability are areas of concern that have heightened during COVID-19 as this population still needs to manage chronic illnesses and address new health concerns, including mental health challenges arising from the stress caused by this pandemic. Uprooted transportation systems, job loss, obtaining medications safely, and limited appointment options are just a few of many obstacles these individuals are experiencing.
Alliance Medical Ministry — a clinic that provides comprehensive, compassionate, and affordable healthcare to working, uninsured adults in Wake County — has stepped up tremendously to help. When the pandemic hit, their team quickly pivoted to safely meet and treat patients by conducting virtual visits and offering a drive-thru medication service. They were also proudly one of the first nonprofits in the state to implement telehealth.
“Telehealth has revolutionized the process for us,” says Mandy Horner, Director of Nursing. Her staff was trained on telehealth in only one week and they were able to quickly begin holding virtual appointments.
Dr. Toby James, Director of Pastoral Care and Counseling, agrees. “Access has been big. telehealth allows our patients the convenience of an appointment without having to navigate public transportation and work schedules to travel to the clinic.”
The nonprofit serves the entire county, so some patients live or work over 30 minutes away. The new virtual appointments provide more accessibility and are crucial for social distancing during COVID-19.
While physical health comes to mind first for some during the pandemic, Dr. James has seen his mental health appointments progressively increasing each month compared to the monthly average for the previous three years. He saw increases of 10% in April, 33% in May, and 45% in June. He attributes this to both impacts of COVID-19 and his ability to serve more patients now virtually.
“There is a lot more anxiety due to COVID-19. Individuals have endured a lot of struggles during this time and feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the pandemic like life is pressing down on them. There’s a need to reorient and readjust,” he says, listing job loss, financial concerns, social isolation, and loss of sense of purpose as some of the challenges his mental health patients face during COVID-19.
Alliance Medical Ministry not only implemented telehealth quickly for both physical and mental health patients, but also changed other procedures for in-person visits to keep their staff and patients safe. For example, the phlebotomist changed her appointments from every 15-minutes to every 30-minutes so that she can thoroughly clean between each patient. Those just needing medications can now pick-up via a drive-thru with limited interaction with the staff. Also, patients are screened to prioritize appointments and asked to wait in their vehicles to avoid crowded waiting rooms. Waiting room accommodations are made for individuals without a vehicle.
Horner explains that patient and staff health are both considered with these changes. “I have to protect my staff because if employees start getting sick, we won’t be able to be there for the patients. I also have to brag about my staff because everyone rallied together to implement the new COVID-19 safety protocols to keep each other healthy so that Alliance Medical Ministry can continue seeing as many patients as possible. Everyone is pitching in to help with so much more than their normal job responsibilities. Also, our Executive Director, Pete Tannenbaum, has worked so hard to get the additional PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) needed like masks, gowns, hand-sanitizer, etc. He has been an amazing leader.”
While Alliance Medical Ministry’s new processes have helped them serve many in the community during COVID-19, they plan to constantly improve their strategies to keep up with the evolving pandemic.
The nonprofit received a grant from United Way of the Greater Triangle’s Rapid Response Fund to support these new COVID-19 procedures, allowing them to continue primary medical care for approximately 2,100 working uninsured patients in Wake County.
Melanie Rankin, Director of Development, says Alliance Medical Ministry will remain dedicated to serving the community during this challenging time. “When other services may not be available, we will be fully operational helping the most under-served in Wake County.”
To learn more about organizations supported by United Way’s Rapid Response Fund, visit: https://unitedwaytriangle.org/rapid-response-fund-resources