Charlotte nonprofits are collaborating for better health results

I remember as a young child in the mid-1980’s being immersed in cartoons like Voltron and Transformers, where independent, but equally strong entities magically morphed into one mega-giant to fight their common enemy. 

This climax came in the heat of battle as all individually realized they needed to unite. What followed was some melodic chant, fireworks and a light show as each character quickly showcased a gift or superpower. My cereal grew soggy as I became fixated in a trance. 

What emerged was a colossal force strategically built to defeat its common foe. Enemies quaked at the mere sight of this newly formed titan.

Fast forward to my time as a social work student at UNC Charlotte. I consistently heard again about the power of collective efforts, this time in the real world. Only now, the emphasis was on brokering, integrating, and mobilizing to get the job done. 

Today, at Care Ring, we embrace those same principles as we strive to help people who need us most in order to establish and maintain good health. We want to work in concert with other community-based organizations, creating opportunities that benefit our shared population.

Ideally, you’d envision a collaboration as a “win-win” for both organizations, broadening the number of individuals served. However, many view it as more of a risk than a reward. The hurdles include competition for funding and loss of time and staffing to organize a new effort.

However, if we reflect on what’s best for the whole, collaborations must become more commonplace. While we all operate within our areas of service, the hallmark of a true collaboration is leveraging the strengths of those sum parts to benefit the whole. Are we not limiting ourselves by acting independently and perpetuating historic siloed behavior?

A true collaboration must begin and end with trust, respect, communication and a mutual determination to serve the greater good. It also must possess a spirit of sacrifice. Results and recognition must be shared.

In 2021, Care Ring embarked on a collaborative adventure with several partners, some existing and some new. We call it “The Bridge.” 

As partners, we understand that a person’s zip code has a greater impact on their health than genetic code. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, and epidemics such as infant and maternal mortality, all disproportionately affect under-resourced neighborhoods, whose residents are primarily low-income persons of color. 

These conditions are inextricably linked to a number of factors, including location, socioeconomic status and race. We refer to the factors as  “social determinants of health.” These partners set out to eliminate one major barrier affecting nearly all of those determinants: transportation. 

Reliable, accessible and affordable transportation does not exist for all. The problem is particularly acute among vulnerable and disparate populations. Thus, our partnership focused on serving outside of our brick and mortar location to bring services to those living in our city’s corridors of need.

In 2021, we excitedly joined forces with UNC Charlotte’s School of Nursing, the grass-roots nonprofit Project B.O.L.T., Novant Health, and Next Stage Consulting to collectively extend holistic health services to the residents of the Grier Heights community. We worked through a faith-based nonprofit, the Crossroads Corporation, which has an existing and trusted partnership with Grier Heights.

Funding this effort was yet another set of partners, including the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, the Mecklenburg ABC Board and the United Way of Greater Charlotte. We were even able to partner with a local 7-Eleven, where we offered on-site health screenings, care coordination and navigation, mental health counseling support, health coaching and access to resources. 

Our collaboration led to 234 patients being served in a six-month span. Understand that for a community-based pilot effort, we were more than pleased. We saw increases in those who have a regular doctor, decreases in reports of visits to an emergency room, decreases in instances of high blood pressure for those screened, and more – all a testament to the trust we’d worked so hard to build. 

Given those encouraging results, we got the opportunity to move into Year 2 with funding from Mecklenburg County government and the community development corporation LISC Charlotte, both of whom share our goal in improving access to health for all.

Not only have we advocated for a better system of care, but we’ve proven that intentional and strategic partnerships can exist. Organizations that serve, and others that fund, can thoughtfully organize for collective opportunities that recognize individual strengths and how they play a role in shared outcomes.

The “C-word” doesn’t have to be dirty. Like Voltron and Transformers, complimentary organizations with aligned missions can be successful as they co-create solutions to solve our community’s most challenging needs.  

We are now soliciting funding for Year 3. We’ve expanded into two new neighborhoods, partnering with the North End Coalition in the Statesville Road/Graham Street community, and with the homeless community in partnership with Hearts for the Invisible and Block Love. Weekly, we are joined by organizations like Loaves & Fishes, Mecklenburg County’s HIV/STD unit, WellCare, The Bulb and many others.

It’s a conscious caravan of services going to locations that matter most, but have been least considered. We’re more confident than ever that this opportunity and others similarly threaded can flourish. 

Our next collaborative effort, set for 2024, is expected to convene a community consortium on maternal-child health, particularly for women of color as we continue to seek the elimination of our country’s growing infant and child mortality crisis.  

Our common enemy: poverty. And when we intentionally combine forces, we are, indeed, in a stronger position to vanquish its effects.

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