GREENSBORO — Guilford County’s public health director made her way through the crowded hallways at Mount Zion Baptist Church, the host for Thursday’s Healthcare Faith Summit.
“I think I know about everyone here,” Merle Green said — impressed. “It’s especially nice to see local doctors leave the walls of their practices and see how all the pieces can work together.”
That leaders and others in medicine, faith and education are focusing on health care issues and the power of community is deemed even more important by people like Greene with the closing of community clinic HealthServe. The nonprofit clinic provided the uninsured a safety net before losing its funding. It had 8,500 active patients and logged an average of 25,000 to 30,000 visits a year.
“The summit is the most important conversation about the future of the community’s health this year,” said Vincent Francisco, an associate professor in UNCG’s Department of Public Health Education.
The community gathering — a collaboration of local nonprofits and others tapping into the work and captive audiences of local houses of worship — has focused in the past on topics such as jobs and the economy.
Thursday’s sessions included leaders of two of the area’s largest health care providers — Cone Health CEO Tim Rice and Cornerstone Health CEO Dr. Grace Terrell — and ranged from the challenges of caregiving and the plight of the mentally ill. This year’s theme was “We Are All in This Together.”
“The notion of we can let things happen or we can control our destiny,” said Michelle Gethers-Clark, CEO of the United Way of Greater Greensboro.
Earlier in the morning, the top White House official on religious issues urged the hundreds of people taking part in the conference to help the uninsured sign up for the Affordable Care Act.
Melissa Rogers, the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, acknowledged President Barack Obama’s displeasure with website glitches, but said now is not the time to abandon the landmark policy.
“These benefits are available and so many people need them,” she said.
Her overall remarks focused on the connections available through houses of worship and collaborations that factor into a person’s health needs — from feeding and housing the poor to provide re-entry into society for people getting out of jails.
“Often what needs to be healed cannot all be treated within the walls of hospitals,” said Rogers, who served as director of the Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs.
Rogers also applauded local partnerships, including faith-based congregational health programs that might provide the only regular checks for a heart patient’s blood pressure. Vandalia Presbyterian, for example, started a food pantry that opened the door for a nurse to provide basic health services.
“You are pioneering a model we can all learn from,” Rogers said.
Rice carried on the theme of the work of dealing with the whole person. He and Dr. Tom Wall, medical director for the Cone-affiliated Triad HealthCare Network, used the example of a woman who showed up at Moses Cone’s emergency room 130 times last year.
The woman, an insulin-dependent diabetic, didn’t have a refrigerator to store her medicine.
“She had a cell phone and a charger so her primary physician was 911,” Wall said.
Health professionals worked with community agencies to piece together a support system that helped the woman get prescription drug assistance program and a refrigerator.
“She has not been to the ER one time this year,” said Wall, whose job is to find Medicare savings.
Mount Zion’s pastor, the Rev. Bryan J. Pierce Sr., put it in perspective: “We can move this forward.”