Nonprofit Spotlight: Alliance Medical Ministry

Garden and wellness programs coordinator Nora Miller cares for the vegetable garden, teaches patients how to make healthy and affordable meals and helps them understand where their food comes from. “It makes them appreciate vegetables more if they can go harvest it themselves and cook it themselves,” she says.

Nobody wants to go to the emergency room, but what if you had no choice but to spend hours at the hospital waiting for routine care?

Alliance Medical Ministry is here to help. The nonprofit works to provide primary health care for employed and uninsured residents of Wake County. Its holistic approach also includes fresh food, counseling, nutrition classes and other services that focus on the whole person.

When members of the First Cary United Methodist Church founded the organization in 2003, their goal was to keep people out of the emergency room when their medical needs didn’t require a hospital visit. This would save patients large sums of money, which could be better spent on food and rent.

“Emergency rooms are filled with patients that simply need a place to go to take care of their chronic medical problems – urgent problems that don’t require an emergency room when they come up – and that’s what we are able to offer here,” said Dr. Sheryl Joyner.

Joyner has served medical patients with the ministry since day one.

Executive director Pete Tannenbaum says the biggest goal of the nonprofit is keeping those without insurance out of the emergency room. “The greater good for our community is keeping people with diseases that can be managed out of the hospitals,” he says.

“I have always worked with underserved practices,” she said. “It is just something that I do.”

Joyner’s favorite part of her job is her patients. They become part of her life as much as she becomes part of theirs. She also enjoys celebrating patient victories, whether big or small.

“It’s just a very gratifying job,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Look, how long has it been since you’ve been to the emergency room? Do you remember those days when you were going once a month?’”

Lasting impact

In its 16 years, the nonprofit has helped more than 6,000 patients, taking more than 7,000 appointments last year for a variety of needs. According to a recent survey, 96% of patients say their overall health has improved since coming to Alliance Medical.

While some of Joyner’s patients only come in two or three times a year, others need more frequent care on a more personalized basis.

“Dr. Joyner is not pushed to see 20 patients a day,” said Pete Tannenbaum, executive director. “Our patients come in with language barriers; they have severe health issues that are complicated. It’s not a quick visit.”

Dr. Sheryl Joyner and her team hold about 7,000 patient visits each year. In the next three years, the organization plans to raise funds to increase the number of practitioners available to help more people in need.

Because 63% of the clinic’s patients are diabetic or prediabetic, and 55% have two or more chronic diseases, there’s a huge need for insulin and other maintenance drugs. By working with pharmaceutical companies, the nonprofit is able to provide low-cost or free medication.

“A lot of [patients] have diabetes, so a lot of it is about educating on how to manage their diabetes, and part of that is eating the right foods,” said Melanie Rankin, director of development.

The average Alliance patient lives on an annual income of about $19,000, so it’s no surprise that 59% of patients report not having enough food to eat. To address this need, volunteers and patients work in the nonprofit’s garden to grow about 200 pounds of fresh produce each year, ranging from asparagus and spinach to pears and blueberries.

“A lot of our patients don’t really know what to do with healthy food, so even if they have it accessible to them, they just don’t know what to do with it,” said Nora Miller, garden and wellness programs coordinator. “So, if we can get them in the garden, we can show them where their food is coming from.”

Each day, Miller harvests produce and sets it out for patients to take home after their appointments. And if they don’t know how to prepare the healthy food, the nonprofit offers cooking lessons. There are also fitness, gardening and preventative health classes — all included in the monthly, sliding fee of $20-$25.

How to Help

Alliance Medical Ministry’s waitlist has over 500 qualified patients who need care. While the nonprofit has the space to help these people, it lacks the providers.

“We have the patients that want to be here and need to be here,” Tannenbaum said.

The nonprofit’s Health & Hope Now campaign aims to raise $1.3 million over the next three years to serve 750 new patients, hire a bilingual counselor and add more flexible clinic hours.

“It will have an immediate impact for us,” he said. “As soon as we can raise those funds, we can go out and hire another physician and start seeing this backlog of patients.”

In addition to donating funds, individuals and groups are encouraged to make care packages for patients, help tend the garden or volunteer in the clinic.

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