Greensboro News & Record: For Cottage Grove residents in east Greensboro, this clinic is just what the doctor ordered

GREENSBORO — The bounce house and food have been ordered, and a variety of community partners plan tables for everything, from gardening tips to housing, as Cottage Grove neighbors come together on Friday to celebrate Community Appreciation Day and the Dr. Charles R. Drew Blood Drive.

The backdrop is Mustard Seed Community Health, which in the past four years has become an integral part of this east Greensboro community. Cottage Grove has one of the highest asthma rates in the city, which can be triggered by the presence of roaches and mold and mildew in homes.

It’s where Dr. Beth Mulberry is using her medical expertise.

The plan for the English Street clinic, which drew 1,400 patients when it opened in 2015, has always been to provide quality health care in a community where the last doctor’s office closed about three decades ago.

The approach is holistic. That’s why staff spend so much time building relationships with other community groups and residents who may need services.

It’s not unusual for those residents to skip doctor’s appointments because they don’t have transportation. Or that they may poorly manage chronic diseases like diabetes because they don’t have insurance coverage.

“It became clearer to me that health isn’t just about health care,” Mulberry said.

Mulberry and her staff operate out of the former parish house for New Hope Missionary Baptist Church so that they can be close to those they serve.

“The thing is, if you are trying to preach and this person is hungry, you’ve got to feed them before they can hear you,” said Pat Macfoy, the executive director of New Hope Community Development Group, an arm of the church that takes a spiritual approach to health in helping Cottage Grove residents.

The Mustard Seed clinic is a big part of uplifting the community, as is the Cottage Grove Initiative revitalization effort, which focuses on such issues as substandard housing.

The Mustard Seed clinic’s genesis, in some ways, is tied to the closing of the nonprofit HealthServe community clinic in 2013. HealthServe provided a safety net for most of the area’s uninsured before losing a significant amount of its $4.3 million budget, which came from Guilford County taxpayers, Cone Health and private donations. It had roughly 8,500 patients who logged an average of 25,000 to 30,000 visits a year.

While on staff at HealthServe, Mulberry worried about some of the people coming through the doors. If she sent someone home with a prescription, she wasn’t sure they’d have money to pay for it.

HealthServe’s closing came about the same time the state legislature decided not to expand Medicaid, which left tens of thousands of people with no insurance coverage and no options for basic medical care.

Mulberry knew she wanted to find a way to help those people.

While attending a conference, she happened upon a seminar called the Empowering Community Healthcare Outreach program, which provides a blueprint for churches and nonprofit groups to develop charitable health care clinics.

“I came back saying, ‘This is doable,'” Mulberry recalled.

And then some things just fell into place.

That included Mulberry having a long conversation at a health fair with Beth McKee-Huger, who was then executive director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition.

About the same time, Macfoy had run into City Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, who represents the district, at a convenience store. While leaning over bags of chips with sodas in their hands, Hightower listened and said, “I need to put you in touch with Dr. Beth.”

Mulberry says that patients at the Mustard Seed clinic — which gets its name from biblical Scriptures about doing the impossible — aren’t easily classified. Many have jobs, but no insurance. Others can’t squeeze the money for medical care out of the family budget.

Seeing a patient costs the clinic about $250. Most patients are uninsured and pay about $20 a visit.

The clinic accepts insurance, including private plans and Medicaid. Those without insurance are screened for the Guilford Community Care Network’s “Orange Card” program, which sets a sliding-scale fee for medical services, lab work and medications.

The clinic provides routine medical care, but also screening and treatment of some mental illnesses.

The efforts of the Mustard Seed clinic should keep people who are uninsured from going to emergency rooms for routine problems. Studies show that when those people can’t pay the bill, the public eventually pays for it through higher health care or insurance premium costs.

The clinic is constantly writing grants, but is seeking donations from businesses, churches and individuals.

“We are always in fundraising mode,” Mulberry said.