Agency engaging donors to help serve patients

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011, the low-cost clinic at Care Ring served roughly 2,100 clients from Mecklenburg County, mainly uninsured or underinsured working professionals, some of them working poor.

In the current fiscal year, with the broken economy making it tougher for low-income people to make ends meet, the clinic is on pace to serve 3,500 clients.

“They make enough to disqualify them from free services, but don’t make enough to get private medical care,” says Susan Furtney, who joined the Charlotte nonprofit as executive director in September 2010.

Formed in 1955 and formerly known as Community Health Services, the agency operates with an annual budget of $2 million and a staff of 24 employees and serves roughly 7,000 people a year.

In addition to the clinic, Care Ring runs a program, known as Physicians Reach Out, that is akin to a private health insurer for low-income, uninsured residents of Mecklenburg County.

It also operates an “evidence-based” program known as Nurse-Family Partnership that provides intensive home visits by nurses to  first-time low-income mothers in the county.

To keep up with growing demand for services, Care Ring aims to do a better job building relationships with donors who give $1,000 or more.

The agency, which receives roughly $450,000 from United Way of Central Carolinas, and about $150,000 from Mecklenburg County, as well as funding from events and sponsorships from corporations, counts on private foundations and individual donors for most of its funding.

But it gets only about 45 donations a year of $1,000 or more, and now is working to help donors and prospective donors better understand its work and impact, Furtney says.

The low-cost clinic, which provides primary-care services for $50 a visit and also offers low-cost labs and nurse visits, was created three years ago “to serve people who fall through the gap” because they do not meet the financial eligibility requirements of the seven free clinics in the county, Furtney says.

Physicians Reach Out, launched in 2004 by the Mecklenburg County Medical Society and based on a program in Asheville known as Project Access, served 4,500 patients in the most recent fiscal year.

Care Ring initially provided administrative support for the program and took on overall responsibility for it in 2009 after startup funding to the Medical Society ran out, Furtney says.

Based on their applications and an evaluation of their eligibility, mainly involving their income and savings, Care Ring refers and assigns patients to a primary-care physician and issues them an insurance card.

Care is provided at the offices of health-care providers through a network of 1,600 physicians, dentists, allied health professionals and hospitals that donate their time and services.

And the agency’s Nurse-Family Partnership has served 200 mothers since the program was launched in December 2008.

Research into the national model has found it breaks the cycle of poverty for participants, improves pregnancy outcomes for the mother and child, improves child health and development, and improves the family’s economic self-sufficiency, Furtney says.

A key goal of Care Ring is to help educate clients, patients and their health-care providers.

“Care Ring exists to give a voice to the uninsured and underinsured,” she says, “and our mission is to create access, advocacy and education to build a stronger, healthier Charlotte.”

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