Help For Chronic Health Issues
The Martin Luther King Health Center and Pharmacy is preparing to celebrate five years in the historic Highland neighborhood at the corner of Olive Street and Thornhill Avenue. But for the center, the celebration is about something more — improving the health of the community.
The inaugural Highland Soiree is 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 18 at the MLK Health Center and Pharmacy, 865 Olive St. The event will feature food from Ki Mexico, wine and Great Raft beer, a live cooking demonstration by Melissa Brannan and live music from Winston Hall. There will be a live art auction featuring the work of award-winning artists Karen La Beau, Myron Griffing, Robert E. Trudeau, Brett Malone and Dr. Suzanne Tinsley.
“We wanted to open it up to the public and let the public come in and enjoy the beauty that we’ve created here on the street and get to learn a little bit about what we do,” said Jordan Ring, associate director for the center.
“We’re the oldest free clinic and free pharmacy in the state of Louisiana,” Jordan explained. “We were founded to serve that gap. There are people in our community who are making too much money to qualify for Medicaid or free care but not nearly enough for private insurance, so they’re truly left without a safety net in our community.”
In 1986, Dr. Robert Jackson and Sister Margaret McCaffrey launched the MLK Health Center and Pharmacy with a Saturday morning clinic at Christian Service’s Hospitality House. Today, volunteer doctors and nurses continue to provide free medical clinics for those in need. The center averages more than 1,800 patients annually.
“We work with people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, hypertension and cardio-respiratory issues,” Ring said. “The population we serve traditionally goes to the emergency room for primary care. That’s not the proper place to manage those conditions.”
Some of the clinic’s offerings include free mammograms and diabetes management programs. Patients can participate in exercise classes and learn healthy food preparation. Patients who participate in clinics and classes together form bonds of trust with the medical staff and each other, Ring said.
“It’s not just a medical history,” she said. “It’s their family history and what’s going on in their life apart from this, the specific condition they’re treating because those factors influence our health. It’s important to know what’s going on in the patient’s life.”
Because the clinic’s patients deal with chronic health issues, having a pharmacy on site has been critical to the mission since the clinic was founded, Ring said.
“(Dr. Jackson) was seeing patients and diagnosing them and writing them prescriptions,” she said. “They would come back in a month for the follow-up appointments with no change in their conditions because they could not afford to get the prescriptions filled. That’s why we decided if we were going to get our own non-profit, we had to have the pharmacy.”
Megann Hayes McDaniel is volunteering on MLK Health Center and Pharmacy’s event board to plan the Highland Soiree. McDaniel said she got involved to support the center’s mission.
“I was attracted to how MLK Health takes a holistic approach to health care,” she said. “MLK focuses on education, healthy lifestyles and community for the underserved and often overlooked. I look forward to introducing friends to all that MLK Health does for our community. Once you see it, you believe in their mission.”
Ring said that mission fills a critical gap in the community.
“There are always going to be people that need our help,” she said. “We’ve got people enrolled in our clinic because they make $14 too much every year to qualify for Medicaid. Fourteen dollars annually is nowhere near enough to afford private insurance. But we all benefit when we’re healthy. We’re better employees, better leaders, better family members. This is really important to us that we are building healthier communities.”