Novant Health and MedNorth Health Center are advancing plans to expand the services they provide to individuals and families in some of Wilmington’s poorest neighborhoods.
With the announcement that Novant will build a new Michael Jordan-funded community clinic at Princess Place Drive and North 30th Street following earlier plans for one at Greenfield and 15th, and with MedNorth planning to expand its 25-year-old facility on North Fourth Street, the health organizations are doubling down to meet the needs of at-risk area residents, many of them people of color.
“What you’ll see is that now you’re going to have a Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic at Wilmington Southside. You’re going to have the MedNorth [Federally] Qualified Health Center in Northside. And then in East Wilmington, you’re going to have the second Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic. So that triangle really creates a foundation of health improvement across three of the four [census] tracts that really had the highest need,” said Philip Brown, Novant Health’s chief community impact officer.
Cape Fear Clinic, founded in 1991 and located on Doctors Circle near Novant Health-New Hanover Regional Medical Center, rounds out the safety net of health services currently available in New Hanover County.
With an expansion of programs and staff expected to occur later this year at MedNorth and with Novant’s two clinics opening in 2023 and 2024, an increasing number of the 24,000 New Hanover County residents who are uninsured and low-income will be able to access a wider variety of services, said Althea Johnson, MedNorth’s CEO.
At present, MedNorth sees about 8,000 patients a year and “there’s more than enough room for other providers to come into the area to help take care of the number of patients that need to be taken care of,” she said.
“The first and most pressing need is basic primary care,” Brown said. “Basic primary care results in upstream prevention and basically creates health, as opposed to a downward spiral to disease” such as hypertension, diabetes and infant mortality.
At the two Jordan clinics, he said, “We’re going to be looking at the primary care physician as an anchor. That may be family medicine or internal medicine. We want to be able to have access for pediatric patients as well. And then, the behavioral health component may very well start out with licensed clinical social workers or other advanced practice providers.”
Pediatrics may take the form of a pediatrician or family practitioners, who are “trained in the full scope of family practice to include adults, children, infants and expectant mothers,” Brown said.
Staffing levels for the clinics have not been finalized, but each physician is going to handle 1,800 to 2,000 patients, he estimated.
Novant and MedNorth will also work with third parties that can help patients access healthful sources of food, safer housing, substance abuse programs and other resources that help thwart disease.
In North Carolina, children of color are 2.4 times more likely to die than a white baby, said Brown, “and there’s no scientific reason for that. These are all socioeconomic reasons.”
At MedNorth, 91 full- and part-time employees handle medical and administrative duties that encompass family medicine, behavioral health, pediatrics, podiatry, dental care and pharmacy.
“We have totally outgrown this building and we would like to be able to have three exam rooms per provider and as our providers grow and as we see more patients, we are maxed out in the space that we have now … I took my own office and we put three cubicles in my office,” Johnson said.
Growing pains are becoming more intense at MedNorth as it takes on new staff this year, the result of participation in a Healthy Opportunities Pilot program that will evaluate nonmedical interventions related to housing, food, transportation and safety. The facility is also increasing services for individuals with delays in intellectual development.
With space issues looming, Johnson is arranging for nonclinical staff to move into three apartments that it will rent in a building across the street.
Regardless of staff size, Johnson and Brown are placing a premium on hiring clinicians who mirror neighborhood demographics.
“We actually intend to start that pipeline early. We are doing some of our sourcing now all the way back to high school with Healthcare Explorers-type programs, with scholarship programs,” Brown said, while continuing to work with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, historically Black colleges and universities and other institutions.
Long term, Brown sees the Michael Jordan clinics not only helping to meet the daily needs of underserved neighborhoods but also as “hardened facilities” that are able to immediately administer medical care and dispense food, water and other necessities following disasters like hurricanes.
All told, “We know that these two clinics plus MedNorth will still not meet the totality of the need as it exists in New Hanover County today,” Brown said, “but it’s a heck of a step because we’ll really be increasing the existing resource by a couple hundred percent.”