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Amid Expansion, Seeing New Patients

April Cook

Summer is almost here!

It has been an interesting, challenging and somewhat unsettling first half of the year.  Medicaid expansion appears to have peaked and most of our clinics are seeing new uninsured patients. As we knew before it started, expansion’s impact has varied significantly from clinic to clinic.

There are a few of the takeaways from the survey fielded by the NCAFCC a few months ago to assess the early impact of Medicaid expansion on our member clinics from Dec. 1, 2023 through the end of the first quarter March 31. The survey, completed by 84% of our members, yielded the following nuggets:

  • As of March 31, 2024, responding members served 65,081 unduplicated uninsured patients, an increase of 593 over the number they were serving on Dec. 1!
  • Clinics that completed the survey saw 6,029 NEW unduplicated uninsured patients in the first quarter of 2024. Many of you utilized our NCAFCC toolkit and/or incentivized your staff to enroll new patients.
  • Since expansion took effect Dec. 1, 3,818 patients of clinics responding to the survey attained Medicaid coverage.

As many of you know, because of the backlog of needed re-certifications for Medicaid beneficiaries, many are re-enrolled in whatever Medicaid coverage they had through the end of the year.  That could mean many individuals that have emergency COVID or Family Planning coverage may lose their benefits once they go through the re-certification process.

I want to sincerely thank all our members for your continued service to North Carolina’s most vulnerable residents.  The uninsured still need you!  We will be advocating for recurring funding from the North Carolina General Assembly again this fall.  The Association continues to advocate on your behalf by utilizing your data, passion and the quality of care that you provide to your patients by telling your remarkable stories.

Please don’t forget to mark your calendars for our first in-person annual meeting since 2019, scheduled for Oct.  24-25, 2024 in Concord.  This conference will host a panel of your peers, a legislative panel from the health committee, dinner at the Speedway Club, and special speakers.  The agenda for the annual meeting will be featured soon on our website, which is undergoing a much-needed facelift.

With gratitude,

April Cook
Chief Executive Officer

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SPOTLIGHT: Dr. Brett Leslie, DMD

Young dentist making a difference on multiple oral health initiatives

One of the patients dentist Brett Leslie recalls vividly from his work at Community Care Clinic of Rowan in Salisbury had to have all of her teeth extracted because of decay caused by past drug abuse and years of neglected dental care. A new set of dentures gave her a new outlook on life.

“She was so thankful to have her smile back and said that with the confidence she derived from her new smile, she was going to pursue nursing school,” Brett said. “We helped her so that she can in turn help others.”

The opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others sparked Brett’s interest in public health dentistry early on during his days as an undergraduate at Chapel Hill, and at the ripe old age of 30, he has emerged as a rising star on the oral health scene for North Carolina’s free and charitable clinics.

The Salisbury native joined CCC Rowan as a paid staff dentist in 2021 after a brief stint in private practice following graduation from dental school at East Carolina University in 2019. Now he’s lending a hand on  initiatives involving other members of the North Carolina Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

He worked with Cook Community Clinic and Matthews Free Medical Clinic on an earlier mobile dental effort and is now helping the NCAFCC’s new mobile dental unit get up and running. He assists Moore Free & Charitable Clinic’s new dental clinic and helped launch the NCAFCC’s dental networking group.

“I love free and charitable clinics because they serve such a huge need,” Brett said. “We serve people who can’t afford dental care, but they’re working and making too much to get government assistance. All of the clinics are doing such great work and they’re all so different, which is cool to see.”

Brett got his first taste of public health dentistry at the clinic the summer after his freshman year at Chapel Hill in 2012, shadowing volunteer dentist David Mayberry. He volunteered throughout college and dental school, and when he graduated and went to work for a local dentist, something was missing.

“There’s so much more fulfillment (working at CCC Rowan) than I found in private practice because you’re touching lives and you’re changing your community, which happens to be my own community,” Brett said. “But you’re also working with a great group of people. I’ve worked with a lot of different free clinics, and they’re all full of good people because they all have the heart for this, which you’ve got to have to do this type of work because it has its challenges as well.”

“Dr. Leslie has really become a beloved part of what we do here each day,” said Krista Woolly, executive director of CCC Rowan. “He is interested in dentistry, sure, but also in the whole person and how their oral health affects overall health. He loves to teach and to think big picture.”

Brett’s passion for teaching both patients and other dental health professionals is clearly part of the fulfillment he derives from his work. He shares the story of a patient who was embarrassed by her smile because of a buildup of plaque and calculus so heavy he could barely see her teeth.

“All we did for her was clean her teeth and educate her on how to properly brush and floss, something she had never been taught before, as is true for most patients,” Brett said. “We empowered her to take care of herself. She acquired Medicaid but wrote us a touching note expressing her immense gratitude for that small but important step of patient education.”

Brett played a key role in launching the association’s dental networking group, a new vehicle to help clinics share best practices and standardize care. The group’s first meeting in May featured a speaker from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, where Brett is an instructor in the dental assisting program.

“I’m thrilled that Dr. Leslie is taking the lead on this project and feel that with his expertise, the NCAFCC dental efforts will be consistent and efficient,” said Krista, who in addition to leading CCC Rowan also works on behalf of all 69 NCAFCC member clinics in her role chairing the association’s board of directors.

Brett is excited to see so many initiatives to expand access to oral health care across the NCAFCC’s free and charitable clinic footprint – from Macon County in Western North Carolina to Dare County on the Outer Banks – that are currently underway or have recently borne fruit.

“It’s just so important, for overall health, for esteem, for employability,” Brett said. “By treating dental disease in the clinics, we’re saving hospital emergency rooms a lot of time and money, and just reducing that societal burden of dental disease, especially in rural counties.”

CCC Rowan’s dental practice saw 507 unique patients, provided 1,600 visits, performed more than 6,000 procedures, and delivered more than $740,000 in free dental treatment in 2023. And by keeping patients (medical and dental) out of the local ER, the clinic estimates it saved Novant Health over $4 million.

Brett thinks it’s important that free and charitable clinics are private, volunteer-driven, community-based solutions to their communities’ needs, and being able to serve uninsured and underinsured neighbors in his own hometown makes his work at CCC Rowan especially meaningful to him.

“The clinic just serves a huge need in the community – as all the free and charitable clinics do – but this is my community so I can see the difference it is making,” Brett said. “Some of the patients I know. One patient a few years ago was someone I went to high school with, so I really get a sense that it’s making a difference in people’s lives, and Rowan County is very fortunate to have it.”


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NCAFCC’s annual conference set for Oct. 24-25 in Concord

Concord is the place you’ll want to be Oct. 24-25 if you are interested in learning about the trends, issues and priorities on the minds of North Carolina’s free and charitable clinics. Our 2024 NCAFCC Annual Conference will mark the first time since 2019 that our community of dedicated health-care professionals has come together in person, and it’s shaping up to be an event you won’t want to miss.

We’ll be gathering at the Embassy Suites in Concord for two days of education, inspiration and entertainment, with a compelling lineup of speakers, panels and breakout sessions, and we’ll hear from experts across the state and national health-care landscape. There will be plenty of opportunities to relax and enjoy the company of your peers, including “Mystery Night at the Track,” an evening of food and fun at nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Next door to the conference hotel is the Rocky River Golf Course, and Concord Mills, home to SEA LIFE Centre Charlotte, is five minutes away. Pamper yourself at the hotel’s full-service Spa Botanica, take a spin on the fitness center’s Peloton bikes, savor a made-to-order breakfast and enjoy the complimentary evening reception.

Online registration will open soon, but you can access the attendee conference packet here for more detail.

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McRae, Brotherton Join NCAFCC Staff

We’re growing to serve you better! NCAFCC added one new position to our staff over the past three months and filled an open position.

Joining us in the role of project manager in April, Lynn McRae is no stranger to free and charitable clinics. Lynn served as development director for Lake Norman Community Health Clinic, now Cook Community Clinic, for six years from 2016 to 2022. Lynn began her career in health care as special projects manager for the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. She is currently at work on a number of projects, including enhancements to the NCAFCC website.

Also a recent newcomer to the NCAFCC staff is Lacie Brotherton, who joined us in February as administrative assistant. In this part-time role, Lacie is supporting the team in many ways, facilitating research, preparing reports and compiling statistical information, lending a hand on different projects and assisting with various administrative duties. Lacie is a Mooresville native and is studying health systems management and business analytics at UNC Charlotte.

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Mobile Dental Unit Hits the Road

The NCAFCC’s new mobile dental unit is up and running!

After some unanticipated delays related to equipment installation and meeting state regulatory requirements, the mobile unit went into service in May, initially serving patients at Cook Community Clinic in Huntersville (formerly Lake Norman Community Health Clinic).

Now making the rounds of participating free and charitable clinics in the Charlotte region, the $550,000 mobile unit is serving Cook Community Clinic, Hope Community Clinic of East Charlotte, Matthews Free Medical Clinic in Matthews, Community Free Clinic in Concord, and HealthReach in Mooresville.

The mobile unit is expected to serve an estimated 1,000 patients in a typical year – about the same number as some of the larger dental clinics operated by NCAFCC members. The unit was made possible through generous support from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, Mecklenburg County and The Leon Levine Foundation.

The mobile unit has helped Cook Community Clinic serve some of the hundreds of patients on a waiting list for dental care as the clinic works to expand the oral health care capacity at its brick-and-mortar facility in Huntersville.

Expanding access to oral health care for North Carolina’s uninsured and underinsured is a major focus for the NCAFCC and our member clinics. ICYMI, read our story from the Winter 2024 newsletter about the multiple initiatives that are currently ongoing or have recently come to fruition. And read the North Carolina Health News story detailing the recent report of the Oral Health Transformation Task Force of the N.C. Institute of Medicine, which offers strategies for reducing the significant barriers to oral health care faced by North Carolina’s uninsured and underinsured.

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Clinics Team Up With ECU, Food Lion For Better Nutrition

Two of our member clinics in Eastern North Carolina are teaming up with East Carolina University and Food Lion Feeds in June to help low-income uninsured and underinsured residents in Eastern North Carolina learn how to eat their way to better health.

Two events planned for June 8 in Grantsboro and June 18 in Goldsboro were expected to feature fresh produce, live healthy-cooking demonstrations, distribution of Food Lion gift cards and a chance to enroll as a patient with either Hope Clinic in Bayboro or WATCH in Goldsboro.

The June 8 event marked the debut of a new mobile teaching kitchen that ECU’s Farm2Clinic program is using to bring hands-on cooking demonstrations and nutrition education to underserved communities where poor nutrition figures in higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and high blood pressure.

The new mobile kitchen replaces an older unit ECU used over the past three years for its Fresh Start program, which brought fresh produce, cooking demos, one-on-one nutrition counseling and group learning experiences to diabetic patients of several NCAFCC clinics in Eastern North Carolina.

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A Stop on the Extra Miles Tour

Leaders at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) set out on a 10,877-mile statewide “Extra Miles Tour” in 2021 with the ambitious goal of visiting all 100 counties across the state to meet with those going the extra mile to improve the health and well-being of their communities.

The team visited with NCAFCC officials and clinic staff at Community Health Services of Union County, and last November a video crew came to NCAFCC headquarters in Charlotte to record the unveiling of our new mobile dental clinic and interview CEO April Cook.

ICYMI, here’s a link to the video Blue Cross NC posted on Facebook a few months ago with the message: “One in 10 North Carolinians don’t have access to care. That’s why we’re proud to support April and the N.C. Association of Free and Charitable Clinics in helping people across the state get the primary care they need to be healthy.”

We’re grateful for this longtime partnership, which allows free and charitable clinics to pursue their mission of providing access to quality health care for all regardless of ability to pay.

Thank you, Blue Cross NC!

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Networking Groups Offer Valuable Resource

After a few years of offering a pharmacy networking group, the Association this spring launched a second networking group focused on dental care. Both groups offer member clinics the opportunity to learn from their peers, share best practices and hear from experts on relevant topics of interest.

The next meeting of the Pharmacy Networking Group is scheduled for July 10 and will feature Jay Campbell from the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy. The Dental Networking Group, which held its inaugural meeting May 9, has not set a date for its next meeting, but please reach out to Allison Kelly at allison@ncafcc.org to let her know if you would like to be added to either or both lists to receive alerts about future meetings.

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Free ‘Advancing Health Equity’ Course Launches July 1

As part of “Our Journey Toward Health Equity,” the Association continues to seek out new education and training opportunities to assist our member clinics that are on this journey with us. Starting July 1, NCAFCC members will be able to take advantage of a new training program, “Advancing Health Equity,” offered by Connected Consultants, a boutique health equity consulting firm led by Dr. Deann Butler.

The self-paced, interactive course is free for all participants and covers various crucial topics, including the foundations of social justice, an introduction to health disparities, the impact of racism on health outcomes, and much more. It is interactive and features scenarios, case studies, and a wealth of resources to deepen participants’ understanding and application of health equity principles.

To participate in the “Advancing Health Equity” course, fill out the provided Google form, and Connected Consultants will enroll you. For more information about Dr. Butler and Connected Consultants, please visit www.connected-consultants.com or LinkedIn.