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Beth McKee-Huger: A new approach to health care is growing in Greensboro

This article originally appeared in the Greensboro News & Record.

Mustard Seed is a holistic community health organization and clinic that was planted in Cottage Grove in southeast Greensboro, and is growing into a prototype for health systems.

It not only provides high-quality primary medical and mental health care, it takes extra steps to help people face the barriers to good health. Lack of healthy food? There’s a community garden. Stress from family members with mental illness? Counseling is provided. Isolation? There are group activities, even when group members don’t know each others’ languages. Fear of crime? The neighborhood association partners with police.

The model is built on teamwork.

What difference does this make?

  • An elderly African American woman who lives near the clinic has struggled to take her medications as prescribed because of family stress. A doctor and social worker have made home visits to address medications, stress, family dynamics and problems related to the 2018 tornado. The community nurse does blood pressure checks and community health workers focus on stress and case management. This wrap-around care has helped keep her on track during a very difficult time when she might otherwise be in the hospital.
  • An elderly Burmese woman has also worked with several members of the Health Outreach Team and clinic to address her health concerns, including PTSD from trauma that she suffered in her home country. The PTSD evaluation will help Elon Law prepare her citizenship application.
  • A young Latina woman who has struggled with chronic and severe depression for most of her life. She started with counseling but, over time, she built enough trust to see the doctor and try an antidepressant. She’s now feeling much better and is working on prioritizing her health and weight.
  • Without health insurance for primary care, people often wait until they are seriously ill before going to a hospital emergency department. Their lives are complicated by stress and pain and poverty. And then they get the medical bills that they may never be able to pay.

Health systems are changing, recognizing that, in addition to excellent medical care to treat severe diseases, our community can work together to address the underlying causes of illness and keep people healthier. The concept makes sense — but actually doing health in a new way can be complicated. As an independent health center intentionally located in a community without other health care, Mustard Seed Community Health can be one demonstration of how to integrate primary care with mental health services, concern for housing, opportunities for physical exercise and fresh food in the neighborhood. .

This works: 70.5% of patients diagnosed with diabetes brought down their A1C test below 8% at the most recent visit; 72.2% of patients with hypertension had a blood pressure of less than 140/90. Without this success, chronic illness can spiral out of control; diabetic coma and massive stroke would have drastic impact on patients, their families, health care systems, employers of workers juggling caregiving responsibilities, and community agencies serving vulnerable people.

Mustard Seed reduces the human and financial cost of illness for an average patient cost of $590 this year. Since patients with limited income and without insurance pay on a sliding scale, typically $20 a visit, Mustard Seed relies on donations to support the remaining costs of high-quality care. Individuals, businesses and faith communities can choose to sponsor a Day of Health in honor or memory of someone special, covering those clinic expenses for a day.

Community Appreciation Day on Friday will be an opportunity to share hot dogs with Cottage Grove neighbors, tour the clinic, and hear more about ways to support Mustard Seed.

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